I have to admit that I thoroughly dislike seeing a “regular” actor playing a mentally disabled person in a film. I don’t care if it’s Sean Penn or Cuba Gooding Jr. in bad teeth, I find the entire concept to be insulting. Honestly, it’s the equivalent of black face.
I know an argument can be made that mentally challenged actors may not have the capability of carrying a movie role. Who cares? Give them a fucking chance. I’m sure any one of them could do a better job as Radio than Gooding Jr., whom I don’t buy in the role for a single second. I just don’t believe the guy who screamed for Cruise to show him the money can play a role where he wears Billy Bob teeth and catches a football. How could a disabled actor do any worse? If I were mentally challenged, I’d be pissed to high hell. Hey, Hollywood, here’s an idea: Next time you need Morgan Freeman for a role, just hire Kelsey Grammer and get a makeup artist who is good with the shoe polish. Grammer’s cheaper than Freeman, and he’s white, so you won’t risk losing the racist audience.
Let’s face it, films that utilize mentally abled actors in mentally challenged roles make a mockery out of those people directors probably go out of their way to avoid in the supermarket. How does that casting discussion go anyway? “Well, we could hire this lady to play the ‘retarded role’. She is retarded, after all. Or … and hear me out on this one … we can get Juliette Lewis. Hell, I’d buy her as a retard. Audiences will know she’s not disabled, so they won’t be scared, and she has a nice ass.”
I live above a place where mentally disabled people go for therapy and fun activities such as painting and singing. Any one of them could make a better Radio than the whore who got the role. Hollywood won’t touch them, though. Maybe it’s because studios don’t want to be accused of exploiting people other than actors. Then again, maybe it’s because they are right about audiences not wanting to see a seriously disabled actor larger than life on the big screen. After all, we don’t see Christopher Reeve get too many movie roles these days, do we? The disabled make us uncomfortable. They remind us we break.
Tom Cruise in a wheelchair. Sean Penn desperately trying to navigate his way through a world he can’t possibly understand. Gooding Jr. mimicking the special kid from his fourth grade class. It all leaves a really bad taste in my mouth. If these actors are going to do roles like that — roles that steal jobs from people who need them because we don’t let them be waiters — they should also be forced to take on the roles of some really despicable characters.
I would like to see Cruise as political wacko David Duke, and I don’t want a Hollywood-happy ending, either. Imagine Cruise spouting off lines about Jews while wearing a Nazi uniform. That’s got Oscar written all over it.
How about Sean Penn in a bio pic about Peter Sotos? Not familiar with Sotos? He is the author of books like Playground Sex and Total Abuse. He writes about sex and children — and not in a nice way. What do you say, Penn? “I Am Sotos”?
And last, but not least, we have Gooding Jr., the only black man who is less threatening to middle and upper class white people than Will Smith and Wayne Brady. What role is just right for him? Alton D. Coleman. Coleman went on a crime spree with Debra Brown (who could be portrayed by Halle Berry) where they raped and murdered their way around the Midwest in 1984. Besides killing little girls, Alton (Al to his friends) liked to hit Debra, too. Boy, the fun would never stop in that picture. “Show me the murder weapon!”
Once Hollywood stops insisting on a “hands off” policy toward the mentally retarded, I’ll stop insisting that it’s just as bad as black face. Until that day comes, though, don’t count on me seeing “Radio.” Hell, if I want to see Gooding Jr. acting like he has mental problems, there are all his other movies to choose from.
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Posted on September 25, 2003 in Features by Doug Brunell
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