It seemed a few moths ago that I couldn't look on Facebook or open a newspaper or magazine without seeing some article about the "Diversity Debate" raging in theatre, television or on film. It seems to have started in December 2011 with the hoi polloi over the casting of white actors as Puerto Ricans in Hartford Stage's production of Stephen Adly Guirgis' play "The Motherfucker With The Hat." The chatter reached its peak with a flurry of articles surrounding HBO's new hit series "Girls;" Creator Lena Dunham has been accused of "whitewashing" New York City through her monochromatic character choices. Most recently, I stumbled upon this article in The New Yorker entitled, "The Diversity Debate: Primary Colors," which takes as its focus ABC's, "Scandal," created by Shonda Rhimes (of "Grey's Anatomy" fame), and starring Kerry Washington. In all of these articles and the subsequent responses surrounding them I have not seen "disability" mentioned once. Not once. For me, this begs the question, "Why?" Why isn't Disability (with a capital "D"), even considered when discussions pertaining to the issue of diversity arise?
I have been thinking about this a lot lately. The New York Times recently reviewed Theatre Breaking Through Barriers', "More Of Our Parts" a festival of six new ten minute plays about disability. There's a line three quarters of the way through the review that says, "The cast includes artists with disabilities and they do themselves proud..." This caused my spidey sense to go haywire. Would a reviewer ever write that about the cast of "Claybourne Park" or the all African American production of "Streetcar." I don't think so.
For a more expert view on the subject I consulted my friend who is a long time disability advocate. When I asked them over email why they believed disability wasn't seen on the same level as a racial or ethnic minority, they responded with the following:
- - Because disability isn't thought of as diversity. To most people it is still a medical issue, not a cultural one. Not a topic of social concern. The biggest problem? Even PWD's distance themselves from it -- to our cultural, political detriment. Look at our language, even when people are trying to be positive there is a attempt to distance ourselves from it: We're not disabled Americans (as in African American, for example), we're people with disabilities -- like men with suitcases or women with handbags -- like it is something we could leave behind or should. My attempt to re-frame takes this on squarely by saying, "We haven't been taught to think about it this way, but disability puts the "D" in Diversity -- not after the fact, as an afterthought, a last minute addition after the first batch of invitations went out out but squarely, undeniably, at the beginning -- it's high time we acted like it. Owned it. Reclaim it. And god damn it, do it better this time. It's not 1950. Jerry Lewis has been canned from the telethon. If we don't claim our power, how can we expect anyone else to?
There's a lot of work to be done. I don't claim to have any answers. The Apothetae's plays will explore these issues and many others. I think the "Diversity Question" is one that will constantly be reexamined and explored. I'm not sure when Disability become the Dennis Kucinich of diversity politics, but I do know all we want is a spot on the dais.
Have a good weekend.