I read a review in The Telegraph which piqued my interest and now I have to see The Theory of Everything for myself.
The film is introduced: “In the 1960s, Cambridge University student and future physicist Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) falls in love with fellow collegian Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones). At 21, Hawking learns that he has motor neuron disease. He and Jane defy terrible odds and break new ground in the fields of medicine and science, achieving more than either could hope to imagine.”
Rob Crossan reviewed the movie in The Telegraph. Rob presents the BBC disability talk show ‘Ouch’, he wrote: “Critics have gushed over Redmayne’s “genuinely visceral performance”. The Telegraph observed that Redmayne is so credible, so convincing, that “you temporarily forget he is acting”.
As a disabled person I have some concerns. The performance is the latest in a long line of what detractors call “cripping up”: able-bodied actors taking on disabled roles, which some critics find as deplorable as the thankfully outdated practise of white actors pretending to be black.
You might draw two conclusions. One: there cannot be any disabled actor in the whole world who could possibly take on these roles. And two: cripping up and critical acclaim go hand in hand. As Frances Ryan pointed out in the Guardian recently, ‘While “blacking up” is rightly now greeted with outrage, “cripping up” is still greeted with awards’.
Even if an actor with a genuine disability were to play the role of Hawking in The Theory of Everything they would still have to deal with the quite horrifyingly sentimental script. To me it goes down as one of the most cack-handed, condescending movie denouements of all time. What we’re expected to believe here is that, for all the quite devastatingly advanced discoveries made by Hawking about the universe, and our role in it, we are supposed to believe that the best thing that could possibly ever happen to him is not to make another scientific breakthrough about black holes, but to simply stand up and have a stroll around the room.
What the film seems to be saying is that “disability is bad and anyone who has anything physically different about them would be better off if they were able bodied”. Which is a quite staggering step backwards into the dark ages.
For portrayals of disability don’t just improve by employing actually disabled actors. The films need to be scripted, directed and produced by people with disabilities too. Because one thing’s for certain, if people who had even the slightest first-hand experience of disability were making films like The Theory of Everything, it’s pretty unlikely we’d see Stephen Hawking picking up a biro as a valid, meaningful or even respectful conclusion.”
I wholeheartedly agree with Rob’s sentiment that differently abled people should be included in all aspects of society including Hollywood’s film industry. The lack of actors with disabilities exists because the appeal of cinematography as an art medium is in bringing a visually impactual story to the big screen, it isn’t required to be scientifically, medically or politically correct. The pivotal point we have to remember is that films are about entertaining the general public for profit. If a film expands awareness of any subject alongside it’s sales then the studios will take the credit – literally.
Romantically I would like to think the screenwriter thought he’d enlighten the audience with an insight into Stephen Hawkins and his ability to address motor neurone disease. But this is a film about a youthful romance, the leading man has a strong story with a tangent public profile, commercially the amalgamation makes it a good movie choice. Sadly for disability advocates Hollywood’s decision-making moguls aren’t driven to produce anything other than entertainment.