For the past several years, there has been a strong push from the PC brigade to have film or television characters’s sexuality or personality traits exactly reflected in the actors who portray them.
The backlash has now apparently extended to non-disabled actors playing characters with disabilities.
In an article for the Mighty earlier this month, Karin Willison writes of Joaquin Phoenix’s casting as disabled cartoonist and advocate John Callahan, calling the actor’s as-yet-unseen portrayal of Callahan “particularly offensive.”
“Disability, like race and gender, cannot be accurately portrayed without having lived it because it shapes us on the inside far more than on the outside,” the article claims.
But if that’s true, then where exactly might this end? Should Julia Roberts not have been able to portray Erin Brockovich? The real-life Erin Brockovich is dyslexic and right-handed; Roberts is not dyslexic and left-handed.
Below are 17 classic film roles that may not have been allowed to happen if the films had been made in today’s PC-obsessed Hollywood.
1. Dustin Hoffman – Rain Man
Hoffman won the Best Actor Oscar for his instantly iconic role as autistic savant Raymond Babbitt in this 1988 drama, which won three other Oscars, including Best Picture.
Hoffman is not autistic in real life.
2. Daniel Day-Lewis – My Left Foot
Day-Lewis won the first of his three Best Actor statues for playing the cerebral palsy-stricken artist Christy Brown in this 1989 drama. Famed for his method acting, Day-Lewis reportedly refused to break character during filming and remained in a hunched-over position in his wheelchair, resulting in two broken ribs.
Day-Lewis does not have cerebral palsy in real life.
3. Tom Hanks – Forrest Gump
As is quickly becoming apparent, plenty of actors and actresses on this list have earned Oscars for playing characters with conditions or disabilities they do not have in real life. Add another one for Hanks, who plays a simple-yet-smart man with a learning disability in this ’94 classic.
Tom Hanks does not have a learning disability in real life.
4. Matthew McConaughey – Dallas Buyers Club
The McConaissance was in full swing when the actor won the Oscar for his portrayal of Dallas electrician and AIDS sufferer Ron Woodroof in this 2013 tear-jerker.
Matthew McConaughey does not have AIDS in real life.
5. Sean Penn – I Am Sam
Penn came close to an Oscar win for his portrayal of a mentally retarded father pursuing custody of his daughter in this 2001 drama, but lost to Denzel Washington for Training Day.
Sean Penn is not mentally retarded in real life.
6. Eddie Redmayne – The Theory of Everything/The Danish Girl
British actor Eddie Redmayne gets a two-fer here; he played a young Stephen Hawking as he loses his faculties in the Theory of Everything, and then the following year went on to play Lili Elbe, the Danish artist who became the first person ever to undergo sex-change surgery.
Redmayne is not disabled or transgender in real life.
7. Leonardo DiCaprio – What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?
A young DiCaprio played the mentally disabled younger brother to Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) in this 1993 film.
DiCaprio does not have a mental disability in real life.
8. Colin Firth – The King’s Speech
Firth won the Big Prize for nailing a pitch-perfect portrayal of King George VI, who suffered from a speech impediment, in this 2010 modern classic.
Firth does not have a speech impediment in real life.
9. Jamie Foxx – Ray
Jamie Foxx was the perfect choice to play legendary piano man Ray Charles in this 2004 biopic, but the PC brigade would probably disagree.
After all, Foxx is not blind in real life.
10. Al Pacino – Scent of a Woman
Ditto for Al Pacino, who played the iconic Lt. Col. Frank Slade in the 1992 drama Scent of a Woman.
Slade was blind. Pacino is not blind in real life.
11. Patty Duke – The Miracle Worker
How about some iconic female roles? Let’s not forget Patty Duke’s towering (and Oscar-winning performance) as Helen Keller in this 1962 adaptation, which also earned Anne Bancroft her first and only Oscar.
Duke was not blind and mute in real life.
12. Holly Hunter – The Piano
Another Oscar-winner makes the list with Holly Hunter, who played the mute musician Ada in 1993’s The Piano.
Hunter is not mute in real life.
13. Julianne Moore – Still Alice
Moore won her first Oscar for playing Alzheimer’s-stricken linguistics professor Alice Howland in this 2014 heartbreaker.
Moore does not have Alzheimer’s disease in real life.
14. Hillary Swank – Million Dollar Baby
Another Oscar-winner. Swank won the gold for her performance as boxer Maggie Fitzgerald in Clint Eastwood’s 2004 film, which also won Best Picture.
This one’s tricky.
“Do we just skip over the first half of Million Dollar Baby because we are now required to hire a quadriplegic instead of Hilary Swank?” asks our own John Nolte. “Or do we use CGI to give this disabled actor the ability to walk and box?”
(*Spoiler alert*) Hillary Swank is not paralyzed in real life.
15. Eric Stoltz – Mask
Can only those with real-life facial deformities play characters with facial deformities? Stoltz was nominated for a Golden Globe for his portrayal of the suffering Rocky Dennis in this 1985 drama.
Eric Stoltz doesn’t have a horrific facial deformity in real life.
16. John Hurt – The Elephant Man
Same thing goes for John Hurt, who was tipped for an Oscar but didn’t win for his portrayal of John Merrick in the 1980 David Lynch-directed classic.
Again, Hurt doesn’t have a real-life facial deformity.
17. Nicolas Cage – Leaving Las Vegas
While we’re at it, why should non-alcoholics in real life be playing on-screen alcoholics?
Nicolas Cage is not an alcoholic in real life.
Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum