Treatment of Black Actresses versus White Actors

Lupita Nyong’o starred in Us playing Adelaide and Red, the tethered version of her character Adelaide. When describing her inspiration for her character Red, she said she was inspired by spasmodic dysphonia, a disorder where vocal muscle spasm causing interruptions in the person’s voice, making them difficult to understand. Many different organizations that represent people with various disabilities repremanded Nyong’o for demonizing the disorder. Nyong’o promptly came out apologizing for doing so and explaining that demonizing the disorder was not her intention. My question is why we did not reprimand Leonardo DiCaprio for his portrayal of Arnie, who had Autism, in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? Why didn’t we accuse Tom Hanks of insensitivity for his portrayal of Forrest Grump, who had Asperger’s and Polio? In both of these cases, these white men were praised for their portrayal of these characters they played with disabilities. The difference between these characters and Nyong’o’s character, Red, is that the characters were explicit written to have these specific disabilities, while Jordan Peele didn’t explicitly write that the character Red had a certain disability. Why aren’t we shaming the writers that made characters with disabilities and not hiring actors with these disabilities? I believe that picking and choosing to be outraged with certain situations like this is fruitless. There is no consistency in being outraged with actors and actresses who portray disabilities. It seems like the outraged is being saved for people like Lupita Nyong’o, who are up and coming, just reaching fame. Society has these unrealistic, holier than thou expectations for minorities and women of color while not holding white men to these same standards. White men can do whatever they want and receive little to no outrage from the majority, but let a black women mess up and it’s the end of the world.

If you watched the movie, you would understand that Red actually was not the bad guy so claiming that Nyong’o was being offensive and demonizing spasmodic dysphoria does not work. It does not take a rocket scientist to realize that. All you have to do is watch the movie.

But I also do believe that portrayals of disabilities in the film industry is a touchy subject. Are we primarily portraying disabilities in a negative light? Are we primarily portraying disabilities in a stereotypical manner that harms the differences in each person who suffers from that certain disability? I think conversation needs to be had on this and we should question how people with disabilities are portrayed, but it starts by calling everyone out and holding everyone to the same standards.

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