Rockville, Md, Jan. 24 – Of the nine films nominated for Best Picture, four have themes or sub-plots related to disability.
For example, Manchester by the Sea includes themes of mental health, alcoholism and drug use. Likewise, Moonlight includes story lines surrounding drug addiction. Arrival, a science-fiction film, includes a child who dies from cancer.
Fences, a film that has received multiple accolades for its racially diverse themes, also includes a disability storyline. Lead character Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington)’s older brother Gabe Maxson (Mykelti Williamson) sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) during World War II. Children in the neighborhood often torment Gabe. When Troy bails Gabe out of jail for disturbing the peace, Troy unknowingly signs a paper that routes half of Gabe’s pension to a psychiatric hospital, forcing Gabe to be institutionalized.
Williamson does not have a disability himself, which is quite common when it comes to casting actors portraying people with disabilities. The Ruderman White Paper on Disability in Television found that non-disabled actors on television play more than 95 percent of characters with disabilities.
When asked by the Los Angeles Times about playing the role of someone with a TBI, Williamson acknowledged the many variables and “different levels of injury and effect” of someone with a TBI.
In the full-length documentary category, Life, Animated, a film about Owen, a boy with Autism, was nominated. The film shows how Owen, a young man who was unable to speak as a child, and his father are able to connect using Disney animated films.