Ruth Madeley and Representing Disabled Lives on Screen
Keywords:disability, acting, disability representation, star-image, performance, cripping up
This critical reflection examines the growing career of actor Ruth Madeley, and her visibility in the industry as an ambulatory wheelchair user, exploring the impact of ‘cripping up,’ on casting practice, and its lasting effects on disabled actors, screen representation and the community they strive to represent. Madeley’s rise to prominence offers the opportunity to explore the significance of casting disabled actors, and the value of seeing and being seen. Her success indicates a shift toward greater inclusivity and diversity, but the sustained casting of disabled actors remains exceptional rather than commonplace.
Drawing upon analysis of three high profile roles in Years and Years, Don't Take My Baby, Verisimilitude, and The Watch, alongside interviews and related paratexts, I explore how Madeley’s disability is negotiated and the tension this creates within her star image. With reference to scholarship on stardom, performance, and disability studies, I argue that Madeley is extraordinary in her ordinariness. She is highly visible, and yet, invisible. Her work dismantles entrenched yet ableist narratives where disabled characters are presented as little more than ‘inspiration porn’, reflected in Madeley’s pursuit of roles where disabled people and their lives are represented as rich and complex, thereby challenging perceptions of disabled characters and their life experiences.
What does Madeley’s career tell us about the industry’s progression since Daniel Day-Lewis’ Oscar-winning portrayal of writer Christy Brown in My Left Foot? And, as Madeley herself has commented, what is left to do in terms of how we represent disabled lives on screen?
Copyright (c) 2022 Leanne Weston
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