For months I’ve blogged about people with disabilities, as well as how they and their families are treated. How are those with disabilities portrayed by the entertainment industry? 20 percent of Americans have a disability, but less than 2 percent of characters on television. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars in “Skyscraper,” a new movie about a former FBI hostage rescue team leader with a disability. The character, Will, is now in charge of assessing security for skyscrapers. He’s on assignment in China, evaluating the “safest building in the world,” when suddenly the building bursts into flames. Will gets blamed for the fire and has to try and clear his name as well as save his family from the inferno.
Johnson has a message he wants Hollywood to hear following the release of this, his latest movie. The Rock is, of course, an able-bodied actor playing a character with a disability. He has partnered with the Ruderman Family Foundation to release a video about the need of representation of people with disabilities in Hollywood. Johnson says the entertainment industry should take steps forward to cast more actors with disabilities to play characters with or without disabilities.
Skyscraper threatens to use disability as a deus ex machina towards the end, but even then says something new. As Will attempts to gain entrance into a locked penthouse, he has limited time to reach the door. Before it closes he uses his leg to keep it open, giving him what he needs to kickstart the finale. This moment could have been ridiculous, and it is, but it is another example of adaptation for a disability. The movie doesn’t declare Will’s disability is beneficial because of this scene. Will has to figure out a way to do something and literally utilizes his disability as the means to execute it. At the end, his life isn’t made better or worse. His character doesn’t walk away a changed man appreciating being disabled. He gets his family back and seemingly ends the film the same way he started. It’s just a facet of his personality he deals with in order to overcome this great challenge.
We have other reasons to thank Johnson for his latest portrayal. The tendency on our part is to focus upon the disability rather than on the person with the disability. This is not only true for those with physical, but also for those with mental disabilities. We all must learn to use people first language.
People with disabilities are — first and foremost — people! People with disabilities are people who have individual abilities, interests and needs. For the most part, they are ordinary individuals seeking to live ordinary lives. People with disabilities are moms, dads, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, friends, neighbors, coworkers, students and teachers. About 54 million Americans — one out of every five individuals — have a disability. Their contributions enrich our communities and society as they live, work and share their lives.