Disabled Actors Angry Over Wheelchair-Bound ‘Ironside’ Role Going to Non-Disabled Actor

blair-underwood-ironsideThe television drama Ironside, which was about wheelchair-bound detective Robert T. Ironside, ran for eight seasons in the 1960s and 1970s and starred able bodied actor Raymond Burr.  NBC has decided to revive the series for the upcoming television series with one major change: Ironside will be played by an African American actor, Blair Underwood.  What hasn’t changed?  Like Burr, Underwood is not disabled.  The decision to not cast a disabled actor in the role has made many disabled actors unhappy.

Kurt Yaeger, a one-legged actor on Sons of Anarchy is one of the loudest voices against the casting.  He points out, “This 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.”

Though an increasing number of television shows have featured disabled characters in recent years, the prevailing trend is casting able bodied actors in those roles.  Examples include Kevin McHale‘s Artie Abrams on Glee, Terry O’Quinn‘s John Locke on Lost, and D.J. Qualls‘s Billy Nugent on Legit. Auti Angel, a paralyzed actress who stars in Sundance’s docuseries Push Girls, does not understand the hesitation to cast actors who are physical matches for the characters.  She says, “What are they afraid of?  There are so many extremely talented individuals who are performing artists with a different ability. “NBC has declined to answer whether or not any disabled actors were auditioned for the Ironside role before Underwood was cast.  That was not the case with Glee, because paraplegic actor Tobias Forrest has come forward to point out that he auditioned for McHale’s role.  Though he didn’t get the role, he is happy that he was considered, explaining, “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.”

Film casting director Pam Dixon, who used to be the senior vice president of casting at ABC, believes that the issue isn’t a matter of discrimination but of exposure.  She doesn’t think enough disabled actors have representation, which hurts their ability to get their name and face out there.  In fact, Dixon is trying to launch a database of disabled actors on ActorsAccess.com that will work with the industry’s Breakdown Services to locate actors who might otherwise go unnoticed.  She says, “You have to win on your talent, but if you don’t have the opportunity, you can’t do it.” 

All the actors are in agreement — the best actor should end up with the role regardless of physical ability.  But they ought to be given a chance to audition to play characters who face the same struggles they have faced their entire lives.via Yahoo!

1 Comment

  1. Jeane K

    August 17, 2013 at 10:11 pm

    I agree, why not give a disabled actor a chance to prove his worth here? The actor that comes to mind right now is “Mitch Longley”.

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