According to The Wrap it seems that not everyone is happy with NBC’s upcoming new reboot of their old 1970’s Ironside series, and, in particular with Blair Underwood in the lead role. Not because he’s black, but because he’s not disabled in real life.
Several disabled actors feel that having an actor who isn't disabled playing the lead role in the series "is as offensive as blackface".
That’s what disabled actor Kurt Yaeger (Sons of Anarchy) says, stating that having it "…would be like being in the '50s and having a white guy do blackface. At this point, You need to start having disabled people playing disabled characters. Period."
O.K. that’s an extreme point of view
Paralyzed actress Auti Angel, who appears in the Sundance Channel’s reality series Push Girl adds: "What are they afraid of? There are so many extremely talented individuals who are performing artists with a different ability."
In fact one disabled independent filmmaker, Larry Sapp, is so upset about the casting choice on Ironside that he’s even started his own Facebook page against the show, called "Don't Shoot Ironside."
However, all the actors who were interviewed for the article all believe that “the best actor should win a role -- as long as disabled actors are given an opportunity to compete. And they also said there are circumstances in which it makes sense to use an actor who can walk”.
Yet, they also claim that disabled actors, who have had major roles in the past on network series, such as Mitch Longley (Las Vegas), Robert David Hall (CSI) and Daryl 'Chill' Mitchell (Brothers) were not asked to audition.
However Yaeger said that disabled characters should get to play disabled characters -- but not just disabled characters: "I want disabled characters being played by disabled people, but I also want characters that were written as able-body to be played by disabled actors."
But then that’s the point isn’t it?
Why would a disabled actor be content to play a only disabled characters in a role? Just as, why should a black actor be limited to only playing the “black” character in a role?
I look at Underwood in Ironside and it didn’t occur to me that here was a normal bodied actor in a role that should have been played by a disabled actor.
I see instead a black actor playing the lead role in a high profile, dramatic network series that almost always goes to a white actor. Something, that's sad to say in this day and age, still rarely happens.
However, parts are getting scarcer and the competition is getting much fiercer, and I can understand disabled actors being upset that they have been overlooked.
Is there a disabled actor out there who could have played the role of Ironside?
Disabled actors deserve every right to be given the opportunity to go for any type of role they want. As actor Tobias Forrest, who in appears in the show Glee, said: "Ultimately, my gripe is I need to be able to get into the room, at least . And if it's something that close to my life, then the opportunity to go into the room to win them over is really what we're looking for."
But then again, I could argue that there are non-disabled actors, black and even white, and even female, who could have also quite convincingly played the role of Ironside I’m sure.
I don’t know what process Underwood went through to get the part. Was it offered to him or did he have to audition along with other familiar name actors to get the role?
But he was ultimately chosen as the best one for the part. And I sincerely hope that it’s a success for him.
I don’t have to tell you that it’s rough out there for actors, and twice as rough if you’re a black actor. And despite the huge success of Scandal, when it comes to casting, the industry is pretty much stuck in its old ways. Just look at the network TV shows coming out next season.
And with the current season ending, showing an unprecedented drop in the number of viewers and the ratings for network television overall (some industry insiders say next season is going to be “make or break” for the networks), you would think that the networks would start thinking more creatively instead of sticking with the “same ol’ same ol’” - and that includes casting as well.
(Like, are you really waiting for that new CBS sit-com with Robin Williams?)
The film industry and TV networks are going to have to eventually come to the realization that things are not the same anymore, and they'll have to broaden their minds and reach out beyond the obvious.
What do you say?