In Stronger, the soon-to-be-released movie about the Boston Marathon bombings that occurred in 2013, Jake Gyllenhaal plays a double amputee – a casting criticized by those who believe that an actor who is genuinely disabled should have played the role.
Gyllenhaal plays Jeff Bauman, who lost both his legs in the terrorist attack. The movie is based on Bauman’s memoir, which is also named Stronger.
The NME reports that the Ruderman Family Foundation – which promotes the idea that people with disabilities should play full and prominent roles in society – has complained that actors with actual disabilities were not given the opportunity to take the role.
“The casting of Jake Gyllenhaal as the lead in the movie Stronger is the perfect example of Hollywood’s ongoing systemic discrimination against actors with disabilities,” the foundation’s president, Jay Ruderman, said in a statement.
“By his own admission, Director David Gordon Green never even considered any other actors in a role in which Gyllenhaal plays a character who is a double amputee.
“By not even giving actors who are amputees the chance to audition for the role awarded to Gyllenhaal, Green effectively denied actors with disabilities to even be considered for the role.”
Almost all disabled characters are played by able-bodied actors
According to a study mentioned by Variety in 2016, 95 per cent of disabled characters in the top ten TV shows were played by full able-bodied actors. That study was also commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation.
While it highlighted the fact that very few roles depicting disabled people are filled by people with actual disabilities, the study obviously had no impact on those casting Stronger a short time later.
“Gyllenhaal’s character presents a challenge since he plays a character who is able bodied and then through tragedy acquires a disability,” the newly released statement continued.
“Gyllenhaal is made ‘to have a disability’ through the latest in Hollywood’s technology, but an actor who is an actual double amputee could be made to walk through the same technology that was used to make Gyllenhaal disabled.”
The many faces of Jake Gyllenhaal
Despite general criticism of how the movie business operates when it comes to casting disabled roles, Bauman was full of praise for Gyllenhaal’s performance.
“I don’t know another actor that could have conveyed that the early days are tough but there is a light at the end of the tunnel and things do get better,” he said in a statement according to Daily News.
The disability issue aside, the movie is getting a lot of positive attention.
Variety’s Andrew Barker said it’s a movie that “just works”. He also makes the point that Gyllenhaal has put in so many believable and highly accomplished performances throughout his career that another one could be easy to overlook.
Gyllenhaal is a remarkably versatile actor, playing everything from a skinny and creepy (and morally corrupt) freelance journalist in Nightcrawler, to a prize fighter in Southpaw. For that film, he piled on muscle, and took part in preparation during which director Antoine Fuqua “watched him vomit in the gym and almost pass out.”
It may have been controversial that the makers of Stronger felt they didn’t want to go for a disabled actor, but by all accounts they made a good choice of able-bodied actor.