Characters with disabilities are marginalized on screen

The Geena Davis Institute finds that when kids with disabilities are in film and TV, they're portrayed as helpless and in need of rescuing.
October 2, 2019

While there have been great strides in terms of gender equality and racial diversity on screen, the final portion of The Geena Davis Institute’s “See Jane 2019″ report finds an overall dearth of characters with disabilities on TV and film.

While almost 20% of the U.S. population has a physical, cognitive or communication disability, children’s television and film rarely show them.

The report examined children’s television and found that less than one percent of leading characters with a disability.

Children’s films in 2018 fared much better, with 8.1% of characters shown with a cognitive or physical disability. The breakdown from the 100 top-grossing kid’s films was six characters depicted as physically disabled, three characters had a cognitive difference, and one character had a communication difference. This is a significant increase from past years.

However, characters with a disability are more likely than other characters to be rescued, and more likely to die. Those characters with disabilities often fit the “super crip” stereotype, whereby a person with a disability displays “success” at overcoming their disability.

When it comes to popular films, the 100 top-grossing films of 2018 for both children and adults, the appearance of characters with disabilities dropped drastically, to less than one percent. When they are shown as leading and co-leading characters, it’s a cognitive or physical disability.

Stereotypes on screen include characters are more violent, more likely to be rescued and to die. This finding follows a study from Hopster this summer, which found that more than half of programs that featured a disabled character were not likely to be central to the storyline or were portrayed negatively, such as used to add menace to characters.

The Geena Davis report concluded with recommendations to increase diversity in writing rooms and director’s chairs, apply the same distribution and marketing resources to films made by women, encourages content creators to consider Gen Z’s racially and ethnically diversity, and to diversify minor characters.

Read all of our coverage on the “See Jane 2019” report. 




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