Feel good Movie or Radical Media Resistance?

root - Posted on 03 June 2004

Illin and chillin looks at Radio and other movies on people of color with disabilities

by Leroy Moore Jr. ED Disability Advocates of Minorities Org.

Although many movie critic reviews of the recent
movie, Radio, starring Cuba Gooding Jr. as James
Robert Kennedy, a developmentally disabled African
American in a small town of South Carolina, has been
lukewarm and thrown into the feel good trash can, I'm here to say the commercial alone blew me away!

As an African American
disabled activist, writer and researcher, I felt
overjoyed to see a true story about a real Black
disabled individual on the big screen.
Newspapers, from the New York Times, San Francisco
Chronicle to the Bay Guardian & East Bay Express all
had almost the same review on the movie; Radio, a feel
good movie. That might be true but I ask have these
movie critics followed the slow evolution of Black
characters in leading disabled roles? Radio might be
a feel good\inspirational movie but how many Hollywood
movies do you see a Black actor or actress in a leading
disabled role?

In the last ten years, disabled
leading characters are beginning to look like me but the
majority have been cast in a negative light or in
harsh reality that many times shapes the lives of many
Black disabled people. For example, the 1992 movie
Water Dance starring Wesley Snipes as a new
quadriplegic who was a drunk or the 2001 movie
Cavemans Valentine starring Samuel L. Jackson as a
mentally ill homeless ex artist who lives in a cave in
Grand Central Park of New York or the 2002 movie
Unbreakable based on a comic book. Guess who plays
the physically and mentally disabled villain? Yes,
Samuel L Jackson plays Elijah; a disabled comic book
collector who was born with a condition that makes his
bones easy to break and because of this he was
isolated, living in a cosmic magazine world. He goes
around killing people in his wheelchair or cane trying
to find the person, Bruce Willis, who is opposite of
him, unbreakable.

Only recently have Black disabled roles in Hollywood
changed to positive. For example, in 1999 the
Bone Collector starring Denzel Washington as a
detective. He becomes disabled and remarkably keeps
his job and gets the girl at the end. And in 2000 the
documentary of a Black blind blues singer, Paul Pena
in Genghis Blues. In 2002 we saw the life of Frida
Kohl. You can also point out that the majority of
Hollywood movies with leading Black disabled roles are
all men.

Black Disabled uplifting movies or what some mainstream
media critics call feel good movies are playing catch
up to movies like Rain man, Almighty, A Beautiful
Mind, The Shine and the recent movie, Station Agent.
The list is endless of leading disabled roles with
White actors and actress. From invisibility to a
drunk, to a homeless mentally ill man to a psycho
physically disabled killer to a top notch investigator
to a successful blue singer to finally a feel good &
true story about a Black developmentally disabled man
who loves football. The slow, very slow ongoing
evolving disabled roles for Black actors and actresses
is forming in front of our eyes it might be slow but
it is expanding.

So go ahead and tug my heart and pull down my tears
because I dont care. I feel proud to see my Black
brothers and sisters on the big screen in disabled
roles especially in a positive uplifting light like

Stay tune for a look back on movies with disabled
roles in the year 2003 surprising there were a lot and
more people of color in roles.


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