Trevor Noah Riffs on People without Disabilities Playing Roles in Movies About People with Disabilities — The Upside and Bryan Cranston

Trevor Noah talks about the movie The Upside with Bryan Cranston

The upside of The Upside might be more awareness?

Trevor Noah spoke about his new awareness of actors playing parts that an actor with a disability would be a natural fit. Not until this controversy hit social media did Noah ever think of the similarities of minority roles being taken by non-minority actors.

The Upside stars Bryan Cranston as Phillip, a billionaire with paralysis who hires a formerly incarcerated man, played by Kevin Hart, as his caretaker. Cranston has defended his decision to play the part.

The six-time Emmy winner addressed the claims that the role should have gone to a disabled actor during an interview with the British Press Association. “We live in the world of criticism,” Cranston told reporters, per Sky NewsOpens a New Window.. “If we’re willing to get up and try something, we have to also be willing to take criticism. We’re very aware of the need to expand the opportunities for people with disabilities….really came down to a business decision.”

“As actors, we’re asked to be other people, to play other people,” Cranston added. “If I, as a straight, older person, and I’m wealthy, I’m very fortunate, does that mean I can’t play a person who is not wealthy, does that mean I can’t play a homosexual? I don’t know. Where does the restriction apply? Where is the line for that? I think it is worthy for debate to discuss those issues.”

The Upside, Bryan Cranston

The Ruderman Family Foundation, called his casting “discrimination.”

“The problem with Bryan Cranston playing a character with a disability in The Upside  exemplifies the virtual exclusion actors with disabilities experience in popular entertainment,” said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation. “It is discriminatory when people with disabilities represent 20 percent of our population, and yet less than 3 percent of actors on TV and film have a disability. Cranston, having co-starred in ‘Breaking Bad’ with a leading actor with a disability, RJ Mitte, understands the value of authentic representation of disability in entertainment. I hope Cranston will become a leading voice for true representation and expanded opportunities in entertainment so people with disabilities will be authentically represented as are minority groups like African-Americans, Asians and others.” 

The foundation’s condemnation is based on the pervasiveness of inauthentic representation within the entertainment industry, as demonstrated in their White Paper on the Employment of Actors with Disabilities, a study which found that only 5% of all characters with disabilities on screen were portrayed by actors with disabilities. 

Ruderman added, “Non-disabled actors are routinely cast to play characters with disabilities, while actors with disabilities are rarely even auditioned for minor parts. This practice amounts to discrimination, and we are working with Hollywood advocates to change that.”

“While we don’t know the auditioning history of The Upside, casting a non-disabled actor to play a character with a disability is highly problematic and deprives performers with disabilities the chance to work and gain exposure.”

Daily Show segment:

The Upside trailer:

Editor’s note: RJ Mitte (circa 2010)

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