Fresh on the heels of Scarlett Johansson abandoning a transgender role in the upcoming movie Rub & Tug, a former Paralympian and actor, Katy Sullivan, has spoken out about Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson‘s character in the recently released Skyscraper.
Sullivan maintains that Johnson’s character, Will Sawyer — who had one leg amputated below the knee after an incident with a grenade — should have been played by a real-life amputee.
Sullivan, who’s appeared in TV shows like NCIS: New Orleans and Last Man Standing, penned an open letter to Deadline, addressing it directly to Johnson.
“Individuals with disabilities make up almost 20 percent of the world’s population,” she wrote in part. “We are the largest minority and the ‘most marginalized group in Hollywood,’ according to a 2017 study conducted by Fox, CBS and the Ruderman Family Foundation (an organization I know you are aware of and engaging with now). The study found that in last year’s TV season, less than 2 percent of characters were written to have a disability and of THOSE characters, 95 percent of the roles were filled with able-bodied actors.”
She drew a comparison between Johansson’s proposed depiction of a transgender man to Johnson’s embodying of a person with a disability.
“This is also the truth for performers with disabilities being sidelined so that able-bodied actors can ‘play at’ what it’s like to live life with a disability,” she wrote. “What we lose in that is the genuine, authentic perspective. There is a bit of a misconception that a performer with a disability wouldn’t be able to handle the grueling schedule of a feature film. This community of ours contains some of the strongest, most capable and tough individuals imaginable. And the amount of determination they need to just deal with a world that wasn’t made with them in mind is staggering. Try navigating New York City in a wheelchair. Believe me, a movie set is a dream.”
Over the years, there have been many movies featuring an able-bodied person playing a person with a disability, including Stronger (Jake Gyllenhaal), Me Before You (Sam Clafin) and even the Oscar-winning Forrest Gump (Gary Sinise).
Sullivan said those movies left her — and presumably other members of the disabled community — feeling “erased” and “Photoshopped out of existence.”
Canadians may recall the 1983 Terry Fox TV movie, The Terry Fox Story, in which the lead was played by a real-life amputee, 21-year-old Eric Fryer. Fryer was cast based on his disability — he lost his right leg to cancer at age 18 — and on his resemblance to Fox. A novice actor, he completed three weeks of intense acting training to play the role.
WATCH BELOW: ‘Skyscraper’ trailer, cast interviews
While not as “polished” as well-known actors, Fryer did a great job, and along the way he garnered a “new respect” for Fox. Afterwards, he went on to bit roles in the business but never got a starring role again.
In her letter, Sullivan fails to mention that Johnson’s character in the film was inspired by real-life amputee Jeff Glasbrenner. (It’s not clear if she purposefully omitted the information or was genuinely unaware of it.) According to The Hollywood Reporter, Glasbrenner “spent a lot of time” with Johnson on the Skyscraper set to ensure his performance was as real as possible.
Johnson even tweeted a picture of himself alongside Glasbrenner and Skyscraper writer/director Rawson Thurber on the set of Good Morning America.
View this post on Instagram
A real pleasure to be on @goodmorningamerica this am with my SKYSCRAPER writer/director @rawsonthurber and the man who was a big inspiration for my amputee character in the film, @teamglas. He’s very excited to see the film for the first time tonight and myself and Rawson are very proud to show him. What a man. #Backstage #GMA #SKYSCRAPER
“What a man,” he wrote in the caption.
On the Skyscraper press circuit, Johnson spoke often about making sure he got the gait right, and he claimed to have put immense dedication into making his movements accurate.
Regardless, just as transgender actor advocates did with Johansson, Sullivan urged able-bodied actors to step away from roles that could go to people with disabilities.
“It’s when we all band together to do the right thing for TRUE inclusion and diversity that we start to change not only the landscape of our entertainment, but through that, we change the perception of what individuals with disabilities are capable of doing (in general),” wrote Sullivan.
As of this writing, Johnson has not replied publicly to Sullivan’s letter.
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