Entertainment and Media

Bryan Cranston is Everything I Will Not Be Accepting from Abled Allies in 2019

Poster of Kevin Hart pushing Bryan Cranston in a Wheelchair for The Upside promotion
Promotional Poster for the Upside | Facebook: The Upside

I know this is something you likely don’t want to hear about your Breaking Bad fave, but he’s problematic. When I heard that Breaking Bad would be casting RJ Mitte, a disabled actor for the role of Cranston’s disabled son in the series, I was elated. Cranston even used the decision to advocate for the inclusion of disabled performers. But, with his current role in The Upside, he’s regressed into what we’ve seen countless times before, and something I vow not to accept now: A Problematic Disability Ally.

If I’m being honest, I hadn’t intended on seeing the upcoming film starring Bryan Cranston and Kevin Hart. The idea of yet another financially stable disabled white man (played by an abled actor) and his mystical negro (who shows him dignity and that life could be much worse) didn’t really appeal to me as a disabled black woman, at all. But, with the last seven days including self-professed disability ally that capes for sub-minimum wage, a nurse excusing the sexual assault of a coma patient and ending with Cranston calling disability exclusion a “business decision,” I’ve kind of reached my limit of non-disabled people with only proximal relations to disability calling themselves “allies.”

And, yes, before I’m blacklisted, I realize that this isn’t the case for everyone, (#NotAll, am I right?) but too many disability allies are in our corner so long as inclusion doesn’t inconvenience them or their perceptions of what disability is.

Cranston emulates a pattern of conditional ally-ship that plagues not just the disability community, but so many grassroots movements of racial, gender and sexual minorities. Many of these allies will appear “woke,” but scratch beneath the surface, and they’re more flash than substance and will actively advocate against what members in that community have expressed to want.

Not only that, but they’ll hold out the carrot on the stick, making the marginalized jump through emotional hoops so that they’re on their side, but not taking the initiative to step aside in their privilege to give others an opportunity.

Among my many major qualms with the entertainment industry—aside from the fact they’re constantly patting themselves on the back for diversity that ignores disability (performers who don’t disclose disabilities or use their platforms to speak about their disabilities don’t count)—they seem too comfortable with profiting off of disabled stories while keeping disabled people on the sidelines.

(Isn’t it ironic that storylines about how disabled people can do anything are always on the screen, yet their justification for not hiring us is because we “can’t do it?”)

It’s why I’m over OpEds that express how much businesses need to hire disabled people for a different perspective: they don’t have to look hard, there will always be a reason not to hire disabled people. Disabled people need allies that will equip us with what we need to achieve our goals, not people that will flip flop as soon as their favorable position is threatened.

I’m genuinely tired of this game we play. I’ve had enough. This year is the year we start calling people out for this damaging behavior. It doesn’t matter what their intent is if the result harms the community.

Disability will always be a “good business decision,” we make up nearly a quarter of the population, but if you want things done well and with inclusion, you hire a disabled person—and then get the hell out of the way.


  1. Brave. I like brave.
    I’m disabled (from a sudden onset of acute illness) – wheelchair, fucked up legs and much more. I was also born disabled with a congenital disease. I’ve got some of the bases covered (including a big deep hole when it comes to income).

    I can only agree with you but I’d like to ask you to address one particular issue a little more in depth and that’s the issue of “acting ability” when it comes to a potential disabled performer.
    A movie project is, undeniably, a major financial undertaking. In order to be open and authentic, might it be improbable/rare to find a genuinely disabled performer – one that closely mimics the type or gravity of the Disability called for by the character in question (let’s say a paraplegic). With an educated, astute pool of critics and even audiences (“What was their score on RT?” is as common as “Who’s in it?) looking for what’s wrong with a film, as opposed to what’s right with one, AND with acting skills generally better than 40 years ago, how does a studio – any studio – make that kind of integrity magic happen?

    1. Ability or skill? Both are cultivated through practice, training and instruction, but those things are so systemically inaccessible that when it comes to major opportunities studios can only claim to be ill equipped to take a risk on accessibility and inclusion, but if people invested in talent and inclusion early on this wouldn’t even be a question. But they don’t care to.

      There are 50 million disabled people in this country it’s impossible to say not one possesses the talent or ability to perform and thrive in such a capacity. The playing field must be equalized first, though.

      1. it’s pretty common for an unknown local indigenous person to be plucked from the slums or islands or exotic setting of a movie and be catapulted to stardom. it’s an accepted Hollywood trope. somehow this never seems to happen for a disabled actor. no director says ” well, I saw her eating lunch, and she just had this something- I knew we’d have to work with her- and I hated the pink wheelchair- but I knew she was the one. nope. never happens. wonder why?

      2. I like the word cultivated. Actors rarely get picked out of the blue to be the lead. But think of all of the minor roles out there that could be played by either disabled or abled. Diversify the background, give disabled actors a chance to build a resume.

    2. Like Imani said, this requires investment in talent and inclusion by people with power and money. Unfortunately people who to tend to make this argument about the lack of cultivated talent, ability, or skill fall into the same problem that many Hollywood execs and casting directors fall into: lack of research. There are theater companies and collectives all over the country who focus on casting and supporting disabled actors and creators, many of these are actually founded, owned, and operated by disabled persons. Here’s a sampling: https://www.backstage.com/magazine/article/theater-companies-celebrating-actors-disabilities-8448/ In the case of Deaf West, many of the actors also have their own side projects and films. There are also many disabled film companies. If Hollywood execs and casting directors actually put in the effort to use Google and do the same research that they do for other roles, they would see this talent (and their fan bases) is ready and waiting for them.

  2. I make films starring disabled actors as disabled characters here(with open captions and audio descriptions as I may have told you before in a previous comment) http://cripvideoproductions.com/astrokeofendurance.php because I noticed this problem years ago and it pissed me off as a person with Cerebral Palsy.

    What disappoints me most about this news story was that the actor is from a series RJ Mitte starred in so this actor must have been aware some disabled people would be pissed about him playing this role.

    As a disabled filmmaker myself, I don’t think able bodied actors should be barred from playing disabled characters but disabled actors should have first preference in casting calls so long as they have the skill for playing the character. I think disabled actors play disabled characters more naturally in general.

    That being said:This particular character in “The Upside” seems to have complex medical needs so a less disabled actor would probably be necessary if he were played by a disabled actor. An actor with the same level of disability as this particular character would be really hard to find and there would likely be logistics and safety/health issues with that level of disability. I know from experience that it is not always easy to actually get in contact with disabled actors by a particular deadline and I have been forced to use unusual methods to contact disabled actors that most casting directors probably wouldn’t even remotely think of unless they were disabled. There are professionally trained actors with disabilities such as Gregg Mozgala,Pamela Sabaugh, Anita Hollander, Tim Snoha, Rachel Handler, Jamie Petrone, David Harrell, and Christine Bruno to name a few. Outside of very few trained actors like these above, a lot of others are NOT connected with actors unions like SAG-AFTRA yet so that may prevent casting directors from using them. There’s a lot of paperwork involved. Accommodations can sometimes not be provided before a deadline runs out etc. So I’m inclined to believe some internal business problem with production did maybe prevent the casting of a disabled actor unfortunately so I think the disabled community should be providing resources to filmmakers and casting directors like I try to through my work, and like Gregg Mozgala is trying to do with the program “Theatre For ALL” in Queens NYC that trains disabled actors.

    I also think disabled actors should have the chance to audition for characters not originally written as disabled so long as the writer of the work approves it and the disabled actor again has the right skills. The actors in my films would love the chance to audition for more characters that are not so specific to disability. All in all this movie looks better than “Me Before You” from a writing perspective as it is based on a documentary that I heard disability activists gave good reviews to, but from a casting perspective it has the same problem as many disability films.

    Ultimately I encourage people to make their own content as I have done if they have problems with the media industry and representation of disabled and minorities, not wait for Hollywood to “get it” because I don’t think Hollywood ever will since they are so out of touch. Its up to us! Not Hollywood.

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