Wednesday, November 11, 2009

7236: Disabling Diversity…?

From The Chicago Sun-Times…

‘Glee’ casting choice hits sour note with disabled
TELEVISION | Putting able-bodied actor in chair sparks debate

By Lynn Elber

LOS ANGELES—The glee club members twirl their wheelchairs to the tune of “Proud Mary” and in joyful solidarity with Artie, the fellow performer who must use his chair even when the music stops.

The scene in tonight’s episode of the hit Fox series “Glee,” which celebrates diversity and the underdog, is yet another uplifting moment—except to those in the entertainment industry with disabilities and their advocates. For them, the casting of a non-disabled actor to play the paraplegic high school student is another blown chance to hire a performer who truly fits the role.

“I think there’s a fear of litigation, that a person with disabilities might slow a production down, fear that viewers might be uncomfortable,” said Robert David Hall, a cast member of CBS’ “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”

That is nonsense, said Hall: “I’ve made my living as an actor for 30 years and I walk on two artificial legs.”

Increasingly, television is expected to reflect America in whole and not just the so-called mainstream. That was the intent in assembling the cast of “Glee,” said executive producer Brad Falchuk, along with getting the best performers possible.

“We brought in anyone: white, black, Asian, in a wheelchair,” he said. “It was very hard to find people who could really sing, really act, and have that charisma you need on TV.”

He understands the concern and frustration of the disabled community, he said. But Kevin McHale, 21, who plays Artie, excels as an actor and singer and “it’s hard to say no to someone that talented,” Falchuk said.

“Glee” isn’t alone in using an able-bodied actor for a wheelchair role: “Curb Your Enthusiasm” did it twice in a recent episode.

“There are very talented performers with disabilities,” said Gloria Castaneda, program director of the Media Access Office, a California program that promotes hiring of the disabled in the entertainment industry. “We just don’t know what producers are thinking.”

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