Friday, 30 March 2018

Is The Shape of Water Offensive?

The Shape of Water led the way on Oscar night, winning four awards and taking home the biggest award of the night, Best Picture. The film is essentially a love story between a mute custodian at a high-security government laboratory and a human-like amphibian creature. Now, this seems to be a bizarre choice, but it was one of the most highly regarded films this award season.

Although inclusion is extremely welcomed by the mainstream public, it seems that isn't the case with most award voters. The public wants an increase in minority roles and that’s why we see the success of recent films like Black Panther, Get Out – another Oscar-nominated film – and Wonder Woman doing well. It’s encouraging to see diverse, popular movies that are filled with minorities open up to a new, wider audience.

Why isn't this the case with the disabled community? Why aren't we getting real people that struggle with the disabilities being broadcasted for the world to see play these roles? Sally Hawkins was never going to win Best Actress – Frances McDormand had won almost every major Best Actress award this year – and in a way that’s a good thing. We shouldn’t be awarding yet another actor or actress when there are people that live with disabilities and get ridiculed for it.

Around half of all the acting Oscars have gone to actors playing characters with a disability or illness.The amount of actor’s awards that actually had disabilities that were similar to the characters they were portraying is two. Only two actors with disabilities have ever won Academy Awards – Harold Russell in 1947 for Best Supporting Actor in The Best Years of Our Lives and Marlee Matlin in 1987 for Best Actress in a Leading role in the film Children of a Lesser God.

Playing a character with a disability or illness is an almost guaranteed Oscar nomination, just for non-disabled actors. The problem with Hollywood is that the general public wants diverse stories, but the Academy will hardly recognize this. Greta Gerwig being the only female director nominated was a great example that it’s time to change. Coco won big on Oscars night by winning Best Animated Film and Best Song, which was a much-deserved win for the Latino community.

While The Shape of Water breaks down barriers in regards to sex (most Hollywood films have disabled characters as unattractive and asexual), there's still work that needs to be done. Society believes the white, able-bodied person as “normal” and until we include different and more diverse types of normal into our lives, this default will remain the same.