An actress and paraylmpian has taken Dwayne Johnson to task over his latest role in the action movie Skyscraper.
Katy Sullivan, who has appeared in TV series like Last Man Standing, My Name Is Earl and NCIS, and who happens also to be the four-time US paralympic 100 metre champion, has penned an open letter to the actor published on Deadline.
Johnson plays amputee former FBI agent and war veteran Will Sawyer in the movie, who must rescue his family from a skyscraper which has been besieged by terrorists and set alight.
But in the letter, Sullivan, a double above knee amputee from birth, confronts the actor with a few home truths about the number of disabled actors working in Hollywood, perhaps the most stark statistic being that last year on TV ‘less than 2% of characters were written to have a disability and of THOSE characters, 95% of the roles were filled with able-bodied actors’.
“You seem like a genuinely good dude, so I hope this will be received in the spirit that it was intended: Actor to Actor,” she writes.
“My request is for you to stop saying ‘Yes’ to roles like the one in [Skyscraper]. And here’s why…
“While I am thrilled that a film about a kick-ass veteran and father (who is a unilateral below-the-knee amputee) got greenlit in the first place, the problem is this perpetuates the fact that we’re not given the agency to tell our own stories.”
Sullivan goes on to say that it feels wrong that able bodied actors get to ‘play at what it’s like to live life with a disability’.
“What we lose in that is the genuine, authentic perspective. There is a bit of a misconception that a performer with a disability wouldn’t be able to handle the gruelling schedule of a feature film,” she goes on.
“This community of ours contains some of the strongest, most capable and tough individuals imaginable. And the amount of determination they need to just deal with a world that wasn’t made with them in mind is staggering. Try navigating New York City in a wheelchair. Believe me, a movie set is a dream.
“I’ve had conversations, recently, with some high-level development executives in Hollywood, and when I’ve challenged them on casting, the response I’ve often gotten is that ‘a movie won’t get made without a name above the title.’ And I get it. That IS a concern: the bottom line. I work in this industry too.
“However, a performer with a disability will never get to the point of being ‘a name above the line’ unless they are given the opportunity to get on that path in the first place. By casting these roles with people who bring authenticity to them, (i.e., an actual amputee actor) you in turn change the talent pool over time.
“Because maybe there’s a kid living with limb loss out there who hasn’t taken an acting class, or gone to an audition before, because of the thought ‘Who’s gonna cast ME?’ If they can see it, they can be it, right? But they have to SEE IT. That’s the difference.
“It’s when we all band together to do the right thing for TRUE inclusion and diversity that we start to change not only the landscape of our entertainment, but through that, we change the perception of what individuals with disabilities are capable of doing (in general).”
So far, The Rock hasn’t commented on the letter (but being a decent chap, it’s likely he will).
Asked recently by Esquire how it felt to play a disabled character, he said: “It was inspiring, but the main thing I got from it is that we need to normalise disabilities. We need to get to a place where they are just totally looked past.”