After Valentine’s Day, Let’s Discuss Disability in Romance Movies
By Erin Rebello
Oh, Valentine’s Day, the so-called sweetest day of the year! With this festive holiday having happened during COVID-19, you might have found a classic romance movie to watch with a loved one at home. Although these cheesy movies can be great fun, if you look closely, you might just notice that there’s a lot more going on beyond the sickly-sweet facade. One issue I’ve recently noticed is the lack of diversity for disabled people in romance movies and television shows. Although this might seem insignificant to some, the lack of partnerships featuring those with disabilities in romance movies can cause major societal issues that reach far beyond the silver screen.
Disability and the Film Industry
To analyze the lack of representation in romance movies, I think it’s important to step back and criticize the film industry as a whole. For years, stories of disabled people have been hidden from the big screen. If any movies were about a disabled character, they would be from an outsider’s point of view, rather than the person themselves. In addition, many disabled characters have been played by able-bodied actors, which further excludes disabled individuals from the conversation. For example, although The Fault in Our Stars is a great film about illness and love, the actors who play Hazel and Augustus are both able-bodied, which sends very mixed messages.
Why Representation Matters
Now that we’ve established how the film industry has suppressed these stories, it’s important to discuss why exactly representation is so crucial. For starters, viewers need to be aware of the diversity in modern society. Without representation, a population might never understand the situation of a disabled person, which can lead to issues like bullying, intolerance, and a lack of public accessibility. This is especially important in a genre like romance because so many individuals hold ableist views about it. For example, oftentimes people forget that individuals with a disability can feel romantic or sexual. Although it sounds like basic common sense, it’s a notion that has been very damaging to the differently-abled community.
Another reason for romance representation, and perhaps the most important reason, is the fact that disabled people deserve to see themselves in the media! According to the CDC, one in four adults will experience some sort of disability, however, only 2.1% of characters on television have a disability. By creating movies highlighting stories centred on people with disabilities, the film industry shows other disabled individuals that it’s okay to be who they are, and that regardless of their differences, they deserve a welcoming space in society. By including disabled people in books, television shows, and movies, we’re actively sending the message that they are loved and accepted – which is very important for all of us!
What Comes Next
Although we have made slow improvement over the years, there is a long way to go in terms of inclusion of the disabled in the romance film industry. While seeing disabled characters on the silver screen is important, we must also work to ensure that more of these roles are given to talented, disabled actors. Representation is important in any industry, but the film industry is especially important because of its widespread reach. Although you may not be able to direct your own disability-inclusive movie as yet, hopefully, this article has at least made you think twice about how your movie choices impact the disabled community!
CDC: 1 In 4 US Adults Live With A Disability | CDC Online Newsroom | CDC. (2018). CDC Newsroom. https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p0816-disability.html
Leary, A. (2018, June 28). Asexual Disabled People Exist, But Don’t Make Assumptions About Us – Rooted In Rights. Rooted In Rights. https://rootedinrights.org/asexual-disabled-people-exist-but-dont-make-assumptions-about-us/
Where We are on TV. (2018). GLAAD Media Institute. https://glaad.org/files/WWAT/WWAT_GLAAD_2018-2019.pdf