fredag 11 december 2009

Diskriminering - vem ska spela rollen som funktionshindrad?

Lennard Davis är professor i "disability studies" vid University of Illinois i Chicago. I måndagens Huffington Post skriver han en debattartikel om diskriminering av skådespelare med funktionshinder. Jag lägger ut den i sin helhet, för han beskriver diskrimineringen på ett utmärkt sätt.

Jag är dock inte överens med professor Davis om lösningen. Jag återkommer om detta efter hans text.

Lång läsning, men bra. Håll till godo:

"Have you noticed that almost no actors who play Othello blacken their faces anymore? Of course not, blackface is considered distasteful at best and racist at worst. Nowadays Othello is routinely played by an actor of color or the color issue might be highlighted in a different way, as in a recent production directed by Peter Sellars, in which Othello and Desdemona were played by white actors while all the other cast members were of color.

We get it with race, but not with disability. Whenever a protagonist is disabled, it is more likely than not that a non-disabled actor will play the part. Recently there was uproar in the Deaf community over a New York adaptation of Carson McCuller's "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" in which the central character Singer who is deaf and mute is played by a hearing actor. And disabled actors protested the use of sighted Abigail Breslin in a production of the life of Helen Keller when a blind actress might have done the job as well if not better. The television program "Glee" is receiving critiques because, although it includes a singing and dancing wheelchair user, the actor who plays the part isn't disabled (pictured). And Larry David has come under fire for his use of not one but two actresses who can walk playing wheelchair users in a single episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

The issue isn't purely ideological. There are an increasing number of actors with disabilities who have trouble getting parts and for whom these major roles would be a great opportunity. According to a recent article in The Hollywood Reporter, out of a total of 600 characters on television shows in a given season, only 12 will have a disability. And of those, most will be played by non-disabled actors. A third of disabled actors have faced active discrimination by being denied auditions or not being cast in a role because of their disability.

Yet every actor knows that there is Academy Award material in playing a disabled part. Think of Dustin Hoffman in Rainman, Tom Cruise in Born on the Fourth of July Jon Voigt in Coming Home, Sean Penn in I Am Sam or Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot. There is a very high frequency of Oscar winning films that depict disability, but very few of those clutching the golden statues are people with disabilities.

There is a standard response on the part of Hollywood and Broadway when this issue is raised. The producers will say that they "tried" (if they tried at all) to use disabled performers but that they couldn't find anyone good enough to play the part. Aside from being a poor excuse, this response should lead us to see a vicious circle. If young people don't see role models in performers with disabilities, they might internalize the obvious message--"Don't go into show business if you have a disability. You'll never get a job!"

The reality is that the pool of excellent actors with disabilities is out there, but that producers don't know how to tap into it. The situation is very similar to the one put forth 30 years ago about why there lots of good sprinters of color but no good long distance runners. People argued that blacks were just not suited to long distance running (and racist explanations went further into character type). But now a person of color will routinely win marathons. The reality is that 30 years ago the pool of runners of color was too shallow to produce winners. Now, thanks to excellent role models, this subject never comes up.

There are legitimate arguments about why would want to avoid limiting acting roles to certain groups. You don't want to deny a good actor the chance at playing a disabled character simply because of their ability status. Just as women play male roles and we try to mix up racial stereotypes, we should, so the argument goes, not limit actors on their ability to play any role whatsoever. That appeal to freedom of choice is a good one, but it crashes up against the fact that there is active discrimination against people with disabilities. And where there isn't active discrimination, there is subtle bias.

Most people defend the right of actors to play whatever parts they want, and I would agree. But the current reality is that non-disabled actors get to play whatever roles they want whereas disabled actors don't. So there is not a level playing field. One group has all the advantages while the other is discriminated against. The three major entertainment unions agree. It's now been a year since they launched a campaign to create equal employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Why should we care? Disability isn't a minor issue. People with disabilities are amongst the largest minority groups any country, amounting to about a fifth or sixth of the population. And disability isn't a "them:" its an "us." There is a pretty good chance that people reading this article will become disabled in some way as they move through their lives. The media helps to shape and define how society at large thinks about disability. The more that television, films, theater, and other forms of performance reflect a world filled with diverse peoples and bodies live, the more egalitarian and fair our society will be.

The only way to achieve this goal is have not just characters with disabilities appear regularly in the media but to know that people with disabilities play them. One day we might see an Oscar winner ramp onto the stage in a wheel chair, or see not Daniel Day Lewis striding upright to the podium to collect his trophy for portraying the bent and twisted writer Christy Brown who has cerebral palsy, but an actual actor with cerebral palsy amble haltingly up to the stage to accept the award in a slurring but proud voice. At that moment, we all might share that pride that one more category of discrimination had been erased from the list of abominations we no longer tolerate." - professor Lennard Davis.

Han kartlägger problemet utmärkt. Och jämförelserna med "blackening up" är klockrena ur ett diskrimineringsperspektiv. Likväl - att säga att var och en tvunget ska spela sin sort blir konstnärligt begränsande. Skådespelare med funktionshinder ska kunna spela Ofelia, även om Shakespeare inte gav henne ett funktionshinder, eller om rollfiguren förväntas ha det funktionshinder skådespelaren har. (Minns ni föreställningen av Hamlet som fick läggas ned på Konglige i Köpenhamn efter bråk om användandet av en skådespelerska med Down syndrom som Ofelia?)

Problemet är att arbetsgivarna inte anställer skådespelare med funktionshinder över huvud taget, oavsett roll eller sammanhang. Dvs de använder bara den ena sidan av den konstnärliga friheten. Den andra glöms, förnekas, förminskas och bagatelliseras eller pratas inte om över huvud taget.

I Sverige finns nu professionell scenkonst baserad på skådespelare med funktionsnedsättning genom Tyst Teater (döv/integrerad), Moomsteatern (intellektuella funktionshinderintegrerad), Teater De Vill (rörelsehinder/integrerad). Samtliga har redan eller är på väg att få kontinuerliga villkor för utvecklandet av sin nisch. Teaterhögskolorna har börjat anordna specialkurser för skådespelare med olika funktionshinder. Sverige ligger långt framme i det avseendet. Men tittar vi på på landets länsteatrar, privatteatrar, film och TV-produktion så är bilden en annan. Här är man inte välkommen. Här är det rätt så genomgående "blackening up" som gäller. (Malmö opera har en kortväxt skådis anställd i Rucklarens väg just nu. Några andra undantag?)

En fungerande konstnärlig frihet kan bara fungera om den omfattar alla. Det är därför det är så vansinnigt viktigt att vi förflyttar diskussionen och åtgärderna på kulturens område från TILLGÄNGLIGHET, där personer med funktionshinder också får vara med vid framför allt konsumerandet - till FULL DELAKTIGHET PÅ SAMTLIGA NIVÅER. Där alla får spela alla oavsett funktionsförmåga, och där respresentationen finns bland anställda på samtliga nivåer.

Representation, pengar, makt, inflytande. Det är det diskriminering handlar om. Och den blir inte ett dugg vackrare om den täcks med en konstnärlig frihet. Men professor Davis lösning - att alla vid varje givet tillfälle ska representera sin sort - är inte störtskön den heller.

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