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America Needs Better Stories About Disabilities

Bryan Cranston is facing a backlash for playing a quadriplegic in "The Upside." What's the problem?

Louder with Crowder

Despite being able-bodied, Bryan Cranston was cast as a paralyzed man in The Upside, opposite Kevin Hart.

In the painstakingly cliche film, the 62-year-old portrays a quadriplegic billionaire who hires a comically unqualified ex-con as his caretaker (Hart). It's the Weinstein Company's adaptation of the 2011 French comedy-drama gold mine The Intouchables, which banked on the disparities between two men's race, class, and physical ability to inject humor and moralize with the trite message, "Despite everything, aren't we all the same?"

In fact, we're not. Backlash against Cranston's casting has ranged from decrying Hollywood's ableism to accusing the film of exploiting disabilities as a lazy plot point. While The Upside as a whole has been widely panned by critics as a "cliche-ridden, exploitative mess," Cranston has defended his right to portray a quadriplegic.

"As actors we're asked to play other people," Cranston told the British Press Association. "If I, as a straight, older person, and I'm wealthy, I'm very fortunate, does that mean I can't play a person who is not wealthy? Does that mean I can't play a homosexual?" He added that he's "very aware of the need to expand the opportunities for people with disabilities." But when it comes down to meeting those needs in the entertainment industry versus good business decisions, he said, "I don't know, where does the restriction apply, where is the line for that? I think it is worthy for debate to discuss those issues."

Kevin Hart, who's faced an ongoing backlash against homophobic Tweets from 2011, said that the film's producers were looking for "box office success" when casting the lead roles. Similarly, Cranston simplified his right to play the part as good publicity, saying, "I think being cast in this role as a quadriplegic really came down to a business decision."

That infuriated some members of the disabled community on Twitter. Dominick Evans, a filmmaker and activist, posted, "So, as a wealthy person he could take economic opportunities away from disabled actors who work an average five days a year?" He also criticized, "[A]s a wheelchair user I could never play Bryan Cranston, so why the hell can he play someone like me?!"


Of course, the problem lies in that exact dearth of differently-abled actors. Among Hollywood's general paucity of inclusive representation, casting can't come down to who's actually shared the character's experience as opposed to who's the most talented actor. As one Twitter user responded, "I'd support this if you could find a disabled person with the acting chops of Bryan Cranston." Filmmaker and writer Ryan O'Connell responded, "That's part of the issue. There are disabled actors but no disabled stars and studios don't want to bet on an unknown…"

But the greater problem underlying the poor quality of The Upside and movies like it is the one-note narrative that Hollywood perpetuates for all disabled people. While the film and its French original are "based on a true story," they both employ the identical formula that major studios use in every movie featuring a disabled character. For instance, 2014's You're Not You stars Academy Award Winner Hilary Swank as a sophisticated pianist in advanced stages of ALS who hires an irresponsible and unqualified college student as her caretaker, played by Emmy Rossum (Shameless). Like Cranston and Hart's characters, the two form an unlikely bond; in both films, the rebellious, young caretakers learn how to take responsibility and appreciate their lives while they work to show their disabled employers that life can still be worth living. If you want a version of that same story but with a romantic twist, there's 2016's Me Before You, with Emilia Clarke (Game of Thrones) filling in the role of unqualified caretaker learning to love a disabled millionaire (Sam Claflin of The Hunger Games), who prefers to die rather than live a paralyzed life (yes, disabled communities were enraged at this one, as well).

Indie Does It

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Before taking issue with Bryan Cranston not being paralyzed and yet portraying a paralyzed man, the first order of concern should be with the flat, victimizing stories told about those with disabilities. The Theory of Everything gave a laudable depiction, albeit with a cultural icon to give it story. So did Still Alice, with Julianne Moore portraying a "shockingly accurate" battle with a neurological disease. With The Upside, America shouldn't be mad about Bryan Cranston not being disabled; they should want a better reason for formulaic, one-dimensional plots than "business decisions."


Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.


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Super Size Me’s Morgan Spurlock latest film, Becoming Bulletproof, is already generating Oscar buzz, but why? It was shot on a shoe- string budget, it doesn’t feature any A-list stars, and there’s not even any nudity!

Because Becoming Bulletproof has done something that I Am Sam, Forrest Gump, and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape were too chicken shit to do. It stars actual disabled people—many are mentally challenged, some have cerebral palsy, another has Williams Syndrome, and a few are wheelchair bound, but it will have you rooting for the underdogs way more than Rocky, Rudy, or even The Karate Kid ever could.

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Every year, Vermont based non-profit Zeno Mountain Farm hosts an annual film camp for people of all abilities. This year’s production transports us to the wild west—gunslingers, bar room brawls, and damsels in distress. It’s a heartwarming documentary as well as a behind-the-scenes look into how movies are made. Acclaimed commercial director Michael Barnett makes you feel like you’re part of the process and ensures that you fall in love with the actors as they trudge the road of happy destiny, and realize their big screen ambitions. Becoming Bulletproof is about “making an awesome movie, not a statement.”

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That makes us proud of what we do,” said Spurlock. "Michael Barnett has made a film that’s funny as well as inspiring—it’s a one-of-a-kind gem.”

Virgil Films will distribute Becoming Bulletproof across digital platforms in early 2016.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, this shit is so much better than Cats.

Ted Danson summed it up when he said;

"I will drag everyone I know to experience  this film, because I know they need to see it and they will thank me for it afterwards."

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Popdust fan and Zeno Mountain founder Will Halby tells us: “These people are my family and it’s been such an honor to know them and now to work with them.”

Wow!  Can't wait to see it? Watch the trailer here.....

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taiwanese ngo disabled hand jobs

Andy has never gone on a date, he’s never had sex, or even been kissed.

In fact, Andy, a muscular dystrophy sufferer who lives with his parents in southern Taiwan, has hardly ever left his house.

So the Taiwanese NGO Hand Angel—an organization promoting the sexual rights of disabled people—decided to step in and show the young man what Nicki Minaj has been singing about all this time.

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Representatives from the NGO counseled Andy online and helped him to understand his homosexuality and deal with his perfectly natural and healthy sexual urges. Next, they gave him a wristy. Seriously.

But first, they had to sneak him out of his parents’ house and whisk him away to a motel, as broaching the issue with a pair of middle-aged Taiwanese conservatives could perhaps prove challenging.

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"I can't tell my parents that I also have sexual desires, and I can't come out of the closet in front them," Andy told Vice. "My family's care puts lots of pressure [on me] and sabotages me from normal romantic relations."

Taiwan has one of the best health systems in the world and its approximately million disabled citizens receive extremely comprehensive medical care. Everything from long-term treatment to traditional herbal medicine is covered, but their sexual needs have, until now, gone completely ignored.

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So a group of social campaigners and volunteers created Hand Angel, an NGO whose primary service is giving hand jobs to the severely disabled.

"Disabled people share the same physical and emotional needs as any others,” explains Vincent, the 50-year-old founder of Hand Angel. “And therefore should have the right to pursue them."

The service is free, but each applicant can only get three sexy-time sessions per year.

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As Popdust previously reported, In the Netherlands, the national health care system provides money for people with disabilities to pay for sexual services up to 12 times a year.

But Taiwan is far more conservative when it comes to issues relating to sexuality and some Buddhists—the state's primary religion—believe that disabled people are paying a karmic debt for crimes committed in a past life.

Vincent lost his legs to polio and says his experience allows him to better understand patients’ needs, without making them feel patronized or humiliated.

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Hand Angel first assesses an applicant's level of disability in order to determine who qualifies—they have to be recognized by the government as having a severe physical disability but can't be mentally disabled.

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There are ten hand job Volunteers in total—some are gay, some straight, some disabled, some are PhD students, some are social campaigners and some are members of the media.

They hug, caress, and kiss, but penetration is not permitted (including fingering, oral sex, vaginal sex, and anal sex).

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At the motel, the volunteer caressed Andy thoroughly and masturbated him. Andy said it was so intense that he thought he was in love, but the feeling subsided after a few moments. Still, it was an emotional and physical connection unlike anything he had ever experienced before.

Hand Angels hopes that they provide not only a sexual service, but that they trigger an emotional and social awakening.

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"[Andy] was very introverted before, and didn't really know how to interact with people," Vincent says. "However, through months of talking online, I discovered something changed inside him. When our group was reported by the media and got lots of criticism, I saw Andy joined the public debate and argued with those [critical] internet users, trying to illustrate his opinions."

Meanwhile, Andy breaks it down perfectly.

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"I didn't feel I was the target of pity," he says. "The whole process was full of respect and equality. This might be deemed as controversial by society, but as long as you're willing to look into it, what we desire is no different from others.

"Just ask yourself—do you need to consult your parents before having sex?"

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Guinea pigs Estella and Pip were found abandoned on the side of the road by a good Samaritan who promptly took them to a local animal shelter in Calaveras County, California—but their bad luck didn’t end there.

"She received no pain relief or vet care for an entire month,” says Christine Morrissey of Harvest Home Rescue.

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Thankfully, Harvest intervened and brought Estella to their two-acre facility in French Camp, east of San Francisco, where it was determined that little Estella had been squeezed so hard that her tiny little back legs were paralyzed, in what is assumed to have been an abusive situation.

According to the Daily Mail, a Harvest Home veterinarian broke the news that no surgery or treatment could help Estella regain mobility.

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"Although she is now safe with us, Estella is plagued by a permanent disability. She no longer has use of her lower limbs or back. But, she has a strong will to survive, and to move around like all other guinea pigs," Morrissey says.

With that aim in mind, Morrissey was determined to give the beleaguered little critter a better quality of life—she took to the world wide web and found a company that specialized in wheelchairs for animals, and the rescue started a fundraiser to get Estella a custom-made guinea pig "wheelchair.”

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The wheelchair itself cost $300, but they needed an additional $200 to cover Estella's medical expenses—and, the goal was met in a matter of days!

"It didn't take long for people to fall in love with her," Morrissey says.

Little Estella's custom wheels arrived in September.

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However, just like a human would, Estella needs to be properly fitted with the device, so she hasn't been able to zip around on it just yet.

"It's definitely a process," Morrissey explains. "Exercise and enrichment are important for animals, and it gives animals that are overlooked a second chance."

Meanwhile, baring a few adjustments here and there, Estella is starting to take to her new wheels like a pig to mud—but, don't take our word for it, check out the super cute photos below!

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Ever had penis envy? Well be careful what you wish for, as a Mexican man, Roberto Esquivel Cabrera is claiming his 19 inch gargantuan penis has ruined his life.

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The 52 year old says his massive member renders him unable to work, unable to pray (he can't kneel) and definitely unable to have a sex life as quite frankly, women are just terrified of the damn thing.

Super-endowed Cabrera, (who has trouble finding pants to fit as the hulking helmet is 10 inches wide), says he ought to be able to claim disability benefit as his dick hangs so low—below his knees would you believe—and gets in the way so much that he finds it impossible to hold down a job. He says;

"I cannot do anything, I cannot work, and I am disabled so I want authorities to declare me as a disable person and give me support."

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For all you cynical doubters out there, Roberto, from Saltillo in North Eastern Mexico has voluntarily undergone medical examination and had an X-ray of his wapping weiner taken and verified by doctors to prove that it's genuine.

Cabrera would like his jumbo johnson to be recognized by Guinness Book of World Records as the biggest ever (presumably he could then take it tour), but TMZ are reporting that an alternative career may be open to him.

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Apparently Vivid Entertainment have approached Roberto to try to bash out a deal for a sex tape. They even have a video of Cabrera showing off his colossal c*ck and weighing it—TWO POUNDS! The deal is proving a little complicated however.....language, money and questions like "who the f*ck are we going to get to deal with that thing?".

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A big decision for Cabrera then, as doctors say that he could undergo a shaft reduction, bringing him down to a much more manageable size...dollars or discomfort?

Watch the video and be stunned (and then wonder what the little bandage is for and what is blacked out!)...

The Netherlands is so cool!

The government just hands out money for school, housing, medical needs, even hookers!

That's right….government-funded booty calls….up to 12 a year.

Disabled citizens get money from the government as part of the 'Hookers for the Handicapped' program. And because prostitution is legal, the gov is boosting both the domestic sex economy and the sexy times of its handicapped.

Sex is seen as a right in the consociational state, and the Netherlands believes everyone should be able to enjoy.

Reports show that this program has significantly reduced depression and suicide rates among the disabled, many of whom have previously never had the chance to get their freak on.

Still, not all of the Dutch agree with, or support, the program—some critics claim that the mentally handicapped cannot give consent—and, a mom who arranged for her Down Syndrome son to lose his virginity to a sex worker was branded "disgusting" by critics, with some accusing her of “pimping him out."

Then, there are those who believe that by making it easier for the disabled to have sex with prostitutes, it makes it more difficult for them to have sexual relationships that are not paid for.

Mik Scarlet, a campaigner in the sexuality and disability movement, told The Guardian, "If you're growing up as a disabled child or someone who's just come to disability, how does that affect how you feel about yourself? I don't want a world where it's easier for disabled people to visit sex workers, I want a world that sees disabled people as sexual and valid prospective partners."

However, British prostitute, Amanda Smith, agrees with the policy, arguing that “sex is a need, like food."

"For some men, the only touch they've ever had is their mum bathing them," she says. “I've lifted grown men who weighed less than a 5-year-old from their wheelchair to the bed, and then back again, fully dressed for the takeover by carers or family.

"Sex is a need, like food. If you can't quell it, it should be taken care of. It's cruel not to."

It's unlikely Great Britain will be following in the Netherlands' footsteps anytime soon though—in true British style, the UK is still a little squeamish when it comes to the subject of S....E....X..... and, is often criticized for its confusing and outdated laws governing the sex industry.

In British law, paying and receiving money for sex is not against the law, but it is illegal to solicit in public places and to own/manage a brothel…. making it a little trickier for sex workers to peddle their services.

That said, business is booming—in 2014, the Office of National Statistics claimed the estimated 60,879 prostitutes working in Britain contribute a whopping $8.16 BILLION a year to the UK economy—however, as import.io points out, that figure only includes female prostitutes, and when you add in estimated earnings from male sex workers, the number swells to $13.60 BILLION.

Well, they do say that sex sells.