For all of you non-Hollywood types who don’t keep up with the headlines from Variety, you may have missed the big announcement last week from entertainment hit machine Miscast Productions. Miscast announced that yours truly – me! – will be the star of the new television eponymous series and surefire hit “Underwood.” That’s right, this wheelchair user will be playing the life and times of television, film and stage super heartthrob Blair Underwood. (Suck on that, John Tesh!)
You’re probably asking yourself, How did Stephen Feldman break away from the pack and snag the lead role in “Underwood”? It’s all about verisimilitude, baby! (Or as Stephen Colbert might refer to it: “verisimilituthiness.”) You see, when the ladies see me they think only one thing: super hunky movie star. It’s the same with Blair. When the ladies see him (and it’s all about the ladies) they see wheelchair-using paraplegic.
What, you haven’t heard the other big entertainment news?
NBC has cracked open a shipping container’s worth of WD-40 to remodel “Ironside,” television’s ironic – oops! I mean, iconic – wheelchair-using paraplegic detective. Blair Underwood is “unstepping” into the lead role first created by acting legend Raymond Burr in the late ‘60s. And while those are some big wheels to push, you know that Blair can handle it. Because like the NBC promo says, “Ironside swore he’d never let a wheelchair slow him down. Nothing gets in his way.”
Not even chutzpah.
I don’t see a remake of “Ironside.” I see a continuation of a long and insidious pattern of discrimination against persons with disabilities. To be very blunt, this casting strikes me as the modern day equivalent of blackface. It’s flat out patronizing! PWDs don’t need the able-bodied to be our stand-ins. We don’t need yet more implicit, handsomely papered over messaging that we’re not good enough – not even good enough to portray our own lives and our own life experiences.
The clarion mission of Pushliving.com is the message of inclusion, of representation. Allowing those who pretend to wear our scars, use our crutches, push our wheelchairs does little to push back against hard-encrusted stereotypes, it further reinforces them.
Does Blair Underwood get this? Apparently not. Appearing on the Today Show he explained that in preparation for his new role “I would embarrass my kids because we’d go out to restaurants . . . and I would go in the wheelchair.” [emphasis added]. He qualified it by adding that “My mother happens to be in a wheelchair.” Yeah, and some of my best friends. . .
Matters of social justice compel us to be more plain-sighted. That and the fact that membership into the ranks of the disabled is an equal opportunity affair. Applications accepted 24/7.
The opportunity pie for persons with disabilities is already so small. NBC and Blair Underwood just made it even smaller.