Wednesday, 25 February 2015

So Eddie Redmayne

won an Oscar for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in "The theory of everything". No, I haven't seen the film yet - and the way things are going I may not get to see it until it comes out as a DVD and I can watch it at some obscure hour. 
But the news of the win of course was sent out over the media within moments of it being announced. And, with it, came some of the most vile comments on social media and websites like the Guardian. 
Yes, I looked. I have no interest in the Oscars but I was alerted to the comments by others who were, rightly, disturbed by the responses to the award. They were disturbed for the right reasons. It was not about whether Eddie Redmayne could act or not - although, of those who have seen the film, the general consensus was that he could act and that he had done an outstanding job. That was coming from people who have ALS, know people with ALS and work with people who have ALS. It also came from other people who have severe or profound communication issues. They were, rightly, angry at the response in the media.
They were angry with the idea that Redmayne got it because he portrayed a sympathy character, someone with a disability. There were suggestions that Daniel Day Lewis was equally non-deserving for his role in "My Left Foot". There were remarks about a particular disability being "flavour of the month" - and much worse.
I soon reached the point where I could not handle reading any more. It was too distressing to see people with severe and profound communication disabilities being told indirectly and even directly that there was nothing worthy about trying to portray the profound frustration of their lives as they struggle to communicate on a daily basis.
Unless you are there in that position you can have no idea what it is like not to be able to speak. I have taught  children who would never be able to speak. I have friends who depend on communication aids because they are unable to speak. My day job is about ensuring people can bridge communication barriers. Not being able to communicate is not just frustrating,  it is frightening. It takes immense courage to face the world if you aren't able to make yourself understood among people who would understand you if you could speak. It is not the same as being surrounded by people who speak a language you do not speak - although that is bad enough. When you do understand the language then not being able to speak it easily and clearly is one of the most isolating things on earth.  
If Redmayne got even a hint of that across then he has done a brilliant job. If Redmayne is half as good as Lewis then he will have deserved the Oscar. What he won't deserve and what people with communication disabilities most definitely don't deserve is people saying that the win is some sort of token nod to a pet disability that will be out of fashion next season. 

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