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.