The Rock’s latest offering, Skyscraper, seems to be having a tough time getting any love, with the modern day take on Die Hard hardly setting the studio’s bank account alight with an underperforming take of only $25.5 million at the US Box office and now the film has come under attack for the lead character portraying a amputee too boot! Johnson plays amputee, former FBI agent and war veteran Will Sawyer who has to take on terrorist’s in a huge Skyscraper which also happens to be on fire, to save his family who have been taken hostage above the flames.
Katy Sullivan, an actress who has appeared in TV shows such as Last Man Standing, My Name Is Earl and NCIS, and who happens also to be the four-time US paralympic 100 metre champion, has penned an open letter to the actor published on Deadline in which she offered criticism of an able bodied actor taking on the role. Sullivan, a double above knee amputee from birth, has confronted the star about the number of disabled actors working in Hollywood, with perhaps the most stark statistic being that last year on TV ‘less than 2% of characters were written to have a disability and of those characters, 95% of the roles were filled with able-bodied actors’.
“You seem like a genuinely good dude, so I hope this will be received in the spirit that it was intended: Actor to Actor. My request is for you to stop saying ‘Yes’ to roles like the one in [Skyscraper]. And here’s why… While I am thrilled that a film about a kick-ass veteran and father (who is a unilateral below-the-knee amputee) got greenlit in the first place, the problem is this perpetuates the fact that we’re not given the agency to tell our own stories.”
Sullivan goes on to say that it feels wrong that able bodied actors get to ‘play at what it’s like to live life with a disability’.
“What we lose in that is the genuine, authentic perspective. There is a bit of a misconception that a performer with a disability wouldn’t be able to handle the gruelling schedule of a feature film. This community of ours contains some of the strongest, most capable and tough individuals imaginable. And the amount of determination they need to just deal with a world that wasn’t made with them in mind is staggering. Try navigating New York City in a wheelchair. Believe me, a movie set is a dream. I’ve had conversations, recently, with some high-level development executives in Hollywood, and when I’ve challenged them on casting, the response I’ve often gotten is that ‘a movie won’t get made without a name above the title.’ And I get it. That IS a concern: the bottom line. I work in this industry too. However, a performer with a disability will never get to the point of being ‘a name above the line’ unless they are given the opportunity to get on that path in the first place. By casting these roles with people who bring authenticity to them, (i.e., an actual amputee actor) you in turn change the talent pool over time. Because maybe there’s a kid living with limb loss out there who hasn’t taken an acting class, or gone to an audition before, because of the thought ‘Who’s gonna cast ME?’ If they can see it, they can be it, right? But they have to SEE IT. That’s the difference. It’s when we all band together to do the right thing for TRUE inclusion and diversity that we start to change not only the landscape of our entertainment, but through that, we change the perception of what individuals with disabilities are capable of doing (in general).”
Johnson has yet to comment on the letter but recently told Esquire that playing an amputee was a great honour for him;
“It was inspiring, but the main thing I got from it is that we need to normalise disabilities. We need to get to a place where they are just totally looked past.”
Johnson is one of the biggest movie stars in the world right now and the argument could be made that his portrayal could actually lead to more disabled characters being portrayed in future films, thus highlighting the chance for actors with real life disabilities to land such roles.
Skyscraper is on general release now.