Disability & Pop Culture: An Amputee’s Point of View

Whenever you think of disabled characters in pop culture, you’ll probably think of Geordi La Forge from Star Trek, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader from Star Wars, and maybe of Forrest Gump and Lieutenant Dan from Forrest Gump. Disabled characters, whether they have a physical disability, an intellectual disability or have a chronic illness, are far and few inbetween in pop culture. There is a greater variety of vampires, ghosts, and aliens than disabled characters (or any other minorities for that matter).

I was born one-handed (don’t worry, I have no difficulties with typing this) and for the longest time, the only characters in film, tv, or books that looked like me, and by that I mean characters with missing limbs, were Luke Skywalker, Lieutenant Dan, and the occasional villian such as Darth Vader or Azog from The Hobbit. Naturally, most of them immediately became my favourite characters of that film or tv show regardless of whether they were good guys or even well-written characters. Seriously, no matter who the characters is, I’d get excited beyond words just to see someone ‘like me’ on screen, even if it was murderous Orc.

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Me, a few years back.

A statistic by the Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative from 2015 revealed that “just 2.4 percent of characters in the top 100 movies who spoke or had actual names had disabilities. That’s a significant gap between fiction and reality, since the Census Bureau has found in 2010 that 56.7 million people, or 18.7 percent of Americans, have disabilities. ” I’m sure the numbers will be the same for many other countries as well.

Here is a detailed breakdown of what this study uncovered:

Characters with disabilities appeared in 55 of those 100 movies. And of those characters, 61 percent had physical disabilities, 37.1 had mental or cognitive disabilities, and 18.1 percent had communicative disabilities. Characters with disabilities were overwhelmingly male; just 19 percent of characters with disabilities were female. Characters with disabilities were likely to be relatively marginalized in the movies in which they did appear: 10 of the 100 top-grossing films from 2015 featured characters with disabilities as leads or co-leads. Of the 11 movies that Smith and her colleagues classified as ensemble, two featured characters with disabilities as part of the core ensemble. (Source: washingtonpost.com)

The number of disabled actors on film and tv is similarly small. In fact, whenever I see a disabled character portrayed, I automatically roll my eyes thinking “ah yes another abled-bodied actor”. The exceptions to this are characters with dwarfism or down syndrome. These are the only examples that come to my mind where disabled actors are always chosen to portray a character that has the same disability as them. When it comes to other disabilities, more often than not, an able-bodied actor is chosen.

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Luke Skywalker

I can still remember, years and years ago, when CSI: Las Vegas came out how I reacted with cynicism upon seeing the Coroner Dr. Albert Robbins walking with a crutch. Even more so when it was revealed the character of Dr. Robbins is a double-amputee. Only later did I found out that the actor portraying Dr. Robbins, Robert David Hall was, in fact, a double-amputee himself! Over the years my interest in CSI: Las Vegas dwindled, especially after the departure of actor William Petersen, but I kept on watching it just for Dr. Robbins. Finally, I’ve found a character whose disability was just one aspect of his personality and not a walking-talking stereotype, nor a villain.

For most of my life, I didn’t really think about this issue in-depth. I just accepted the low numbers and sometimes terrible representation without question. However, as I get older and started my academic career in culture studies, with a focus on literary studies, I began to think critically and eventually began a Ph.D on disability in literature. For a year now, I’ve been reading and researching books and short stories in science fiction featuring disabled characters and let me tell you it wasn’t very easy. Not all summaries online will tell you that a book or short story deals with disability issues. Some books, I’ve stumbled upon by accident on amazon while browsing for another unrelated book.

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Lieutenant Dan

Initially, I intended this to be a brief “x amount of disabled characters in Science Fiction” – list. However, I realized very early that this is not an issue I can summarize in just a few sentences, hence, my Ph.D project. I could go on an on in this post, but it is too long and to “here and there” already. In other words, I want to write more blog-posts discussing disability in pop-culture. I don’t know, nor can I promise anything, how long this series will be or how frequent these type of posts will be. However, I will try, at the very least, to contribute a bit to the discussion of disability rights. I’m over 30 now and if a few random posts here and there end up helping a young person growing up with a disability to feel more confident and find characters that “look just like themselves” then I’ve succeeded.

So what’s next up? A short list of science fiction books and short-stories I’ve recently read that feature disabled characters. Moreover, there are numerous movies, tv shows, or books with disabled characters that I haven’t watched or read yet. So I think it’ll be nice to give brief reviews of my first thoughts on these characters.

It is your turn now. What are your thoughts on this issue? Do you have a movie, tv-show, game, comic, or book featuring disabled characters that you absolutely love or hate? Leave a comment down below!

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5 Fandom Friday: Five Magical Potions to Always Have in the Cupboard

We already covered Fictional Foods That We Want To Try in an earlier post, but fantasy offers us even more interesting options when we look at potions. Let’s face it, if we had access to effects like these, we would keep them stocked at home for when we need them!

With that in mind, I’d like to share Five Magical Potions to Always Have in the Cupboard.

#1 – Lucy’s Cordial from Father Christmas

The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe

Lucy’s Cordial from the Chronicles of Narnia requires only a few drops to restore health to someone on a battlefield, so even though it probably falls into the category of a standard health potion, it certainly lands on the powerful end of the scale. For me, the most important potion to have on hand is a healing potion, and I have always wanted this one after having The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe read to me as a child.

#2 – Felix Felicis

Harry Potter

Sometimes, you just need a little luck! Felix Felicis (aka Liquid Luck) can be toxic if used in high doses as it can cause extreme recklessness, but if you use it sparingly and only when needed, you are likely to be successful in all of your endeavors while under its influence.

Screen capture by @NWPlayer123

#3 – Energizing Elixir

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Imagine being in the middle of an exhausting task and suddenly regaining stamina as though you had just begun. The Energizing Elixir from Breath of the Wild comes in handy when you’re climbing a cliff or swimming, and having easy access to this potion in the real world could give you just what you need to finish what you started when fatigue sets in.

#4 – Draught of PEace

Harry Potter

The draught of peace can soothe anxiety and calm agitation. You could use it yourself when you feel stressed about public speaking or a frightening situation, or you could share it with your loved ones when they just need a moment of peace from their worries and cares.

#5 – Morgause’s Tracking Potion

Merlin

Technically, the tracking potion was used by the bad guys (namely, Morgause and Morgana), but you could use it for good! I get uneasy when someone wants me to follow them instead of giving me directions to our intended destination, and this would make it as simple as following their trail. Assuming it worked on animals, you could give one to your pet to see just what they are getting their little paws into.

Honorable Mention: Egg Shen’s Potion

Big Trouble in Little China

“Drink this, you will see things no one else can see. Do things no one else can do!”

 

These are just six potions from a handful of properties, and we’re sure that there are plenty more excellent choices. In the comments below, please share what you would always keep in stock!

You can check out all of our past 5 Fandom Friday posts here, and we’d love to know if you have any suggestions for future topics!

5 Fandom Friday: Five Times the Hero Wore Black

“Evil wears black” is a trope seemingly as old as storytelling itself, and we’ve been conditioned since childhood to recognize it. Sometimes, it’s an easy way for a moviemaker to give the audience clues as to a person’s villainous intentions, but we think it’s far more interesting when a film flips this kind of preconceived notion and dresses the protagonist in black.

Our topic for this week’s Five Fandom Friday is Five Times the Hero Wore Black, and we’re happy to share some of our favorite good guys who just happened to ditch the shining armour.

#5 – Maleficent

Maleficent (2014)

Maleficent is one of those characters whose wardrobe helped define her as absolutely evil, and that’s what makes her inclusion on this list a necessary one. In the recent retelling of her story, we get to see her side of things, and it turns out that not all was as it appeared in the classic Disney animated film Sleeping Beauty,

#4 – Batman

Batman: The Animated Series (1992-1995)

Batman’s role as a vigilante compels him to hide his identity, and there’s no better way to slink into the shadows than by dressing in black. In his case, it’s also a reflection of the tortured soul within. The actor Kevin Conroy explained at a panel I attended at Wizard World Austin how he performed the voice: “I was able to just use my imagination, and transport myself to this dark, broody, painful place, which is where I thought the character’s inner life resides, because of what happened to him as a child.”

#3 – Luke Skywalker

Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi (1983)

Luke’s costume in the first Star Wars film was largely white, but rather than being a young hero who defeats the evil character in black, he sees his mentor struck down. In The Empire Strikes Back, he fights the same villain and loses a hand. By the time of the third film, The Return of the Jedi, Luke has been through a lot, and the iconic lightsaber duel between him and Darth Vader sets the stage differently than your standard good versus evil showdown. Luke is tempted by the dark side of the Force, but he not only manages to defeat his foe, he redeems his father. And all while wearing black.

#2 – Harry Potter

Harry Potter films (2001-2011)

I guess when it comes to expecting black to be a portent for evil, we’re all just a bunch of muggles. At Hogwarts, and in the wider Wizarding World, black robes are standard (sometimes mandatory) fare, and it never kept Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, or any of the other wizards and witches from heroic feats. Watch out for anyone bearing the Dark Mark, though…

#1 – Westley

The Princess Bride (1987)

Westley is on the top of this list because I, Lily Milos, am making this list, and he was my absolute first movie crush and I shall always love him. But I can say with some certainty that when “The Man in Black” was first introduced in The Princess Bride, I thought he was yet another bad guy in a mask. He was eventually revealed to be our dashing hero, and it turns out that masks are just “terribly comfortable. I think everyone will be wearing them in the future.”

 

We originally had a hard time thinking of examples of films and heroes for this prompt of ours, but once we got going, we had to refine our list to only our top five! Now it’s your chance to weigh in: what black-clad heroes can you come up with?

You can check out all of our past 5 Fandom Friday posts here, and we’d love to know if you have any suggestions for future topics!

5 Fandom Friday: Five Fictional Foods We Want to Try

It’s never a bad time to blog about good eats, but with autumn in full swing in the northern hemisphere and fall harvest festivals keeping food always on the brain, we thought it was the perfect time discuss the dishes that we can only fantasize about.

We’re keeping the spirit of Five Fandom Friday going strong by creating our own prompts. Join us this week as we share Five Fictional Foods We Want to Try! Do you see any of your favorites on our list?

#5 – Slurm

Futurama

Maria: I’m a big fan of Futurama and one of the thing that I’d love to try is the highly addictive Slurm soft drink. Yes, I know Slurm is made out of the secretion of a giant Slurm Worm, but it just looks like so delicious and fun that I’d still try it. I mean, honey is technically just Bee spit, right? Now, I’ve seen that you can order Slurm online, but with a price-tag of 20$ or more per can or bottle, buying one is out of the question.

#4 – Any food animated by Studio Ghibli

Maria: Whether it being Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, or Howl’s Movie Castle, Hayao Miyazaki’s animated food looks absolutely delicious. I know that you can just travel to Japan and eat the dishes over there. But I don’t want just any dish shown in Miyazaki’s movies, I want to eat those specifically animated ones!

#3 – Lembas

The Lord of the Rings

Lily: Being a hobbit at heart (and stomach), I’d love to try lembas bread from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The fellowship was gifted lembas provisions by Galadriel in Lothlorien to help them on the long trek into Mordor, and not only will “one keep a traveller on his feet for a day of long labour,” but as Merry says, “Lembas does put heart into you! A more wholesome sort of feeling, too.” Whether you’re running a marathon or simply don’t have time to stop in the middle of a busy day to eat a proper meal, lembas sounds like the perfect food to have on hand!

#2 – Three Course Dinner Chewing Gum

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Lily: No list of fictional foods could be complete without one item from Willy Wonka’s fantastical chocolate factory! Assuming that it had been perfected and wouldn’t turn me into a giant blueberry balloon, I’d happily enjoy a filling three-course meal in the form of chewing gum. In fact, I would hope there was an entire line of meal flavors so that I could try them all.

#1 – Wonderland’s SiZe Altering Foods

Alice’s Adventures in WOnderland

Lily: A few of these items have somewhat miraculously provided more nutrition than one might expect, but the resizing foods and drinks imagined by Lewis Carroll are pure magic. Starting from the premise that you at least knew the effect of any given “Eat Me” food or “Drink Me” vial, you could be a superhero able to fit into tiny spaces or save people dangling from scary heights. And hopefully they taste pretty good, too.

 

Can you think of any delicious-sounding fictional foods that would vie for a top spot on this list? Please share them in the comments!

You can check out all of our past 5 Fandom Friday posts here, and we’d love to know if you have any suggestions for future topics!

5 Fandom Friday: Five Villains We Secretly Love

Whether they are physically alluring, compelling to watch, or simply misunderstood, we all secretly have villains that we actually root for.

We’re keeping up with the spirit of Five Fandom Friday with our own prompts, and this week, we are daring to admit to Five Villains We Secretly Love! Do you see any of your favorites on our list?

#1 – Lucius Malfoy

Harry Potter Series

Maria: Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t deny Lucius’ evil side, I’m also not sugarcoating his views. In our world, he’d be an arrogant racist, and I’m all against that. Having said that, I cannot deny that Movie Lucius is such a dandy that he is almost on parr with Gilderoy Lockhart. Everything about movie Lucius in the early films is just so extra, so over the top that I cannot help but love him and feel for his character in the last films as his life starts to unravel.

#2 – Eris

Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas

Lily: I loved the movie Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas when it came out, but it wasn’t entirely because of the heroic deeds of the protagonists. Eris, the goddess discord, was so entrancing to watch that I was always excited to see her. This is largely due to the interesting effects used to create her smoky appearances and movements (Eris is a combination of a hand-drawn character with added 3D effects).

She just wants to add a little chaos into the world, and she happens to use mortals as her playthings. But if you use her own rules to beat her at her own game, she accepts it…rather gracefully.

#3 – Wilson Fisk

Daredevil

Lily: The first time we meet Wilson Fisk, he is about to put himself out on a limb to ask a woman out on a date. He’s nervous and vulnerable, and I instantly felt empathy for him. His backstory is revealed throughout the first season of Daredevil, and we learn that a catalyst for his violence was wanting to protect his mother, a noble motivation. In his mind, he is the hero — like Matthew Murdock, he sees himself as the caretaker of his city. He just turns into a scary, calculating rage monster to make his vision happen.

#4 – Bart Curlish

Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

Lily: She’s crazy. She’s erratic. She’s hilarious. She’s deadly. Bart Curlish is the opposite of Dirk Gently in that she’s a holistic assassin and is meant to kill whomever she kills. And she has killed a lot of people. But never the wrong person.

Just like Eris, I was always looking forward to when this character would show up, even if her motive (“Kill Dirk Gently”) runs counter to the rest of the show. Honestly, sometimes I really wished for her to fulfill her mission just because I wanted her to have that win.

#5 – Gollum/Sméagol

The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings

Lily: When we first meet Gollum in The Hobbit, he’s a menace and an obstacle to be overcome (though the riddle game between Gollum and Bilbo is my favorite scene in the whole Hobbit movie trilogy). It’s in The Lord of the Rings that we become sympathetic towards him, or at the very least, can find him pitiable. He is single-minded from the moment he sees the ring, but it is his moments of compassion for Frodo that hearken back to the simple creature he was before the One Ring corrupted him. However, without that corruption, he would not have been able to empathize with Frodo.

He’s a complicated character, to be sure, but when people ask me about my favorite characters in The Lord of the Rings, Gollum is always in the top ten.

 

Did we leave any of your favorite villains off of our list? Be sure to let us know in the comments who we missed!

You can check out all of our past 5 Fandom Friday posts here, and we’d love to know if you have any suggestions for future topics!