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British disabled actors in the Film Industry

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This Sunday stars from the big screen will attend the Orange British Academy Film Awards at the Royal Opera House. A-List celebrities such as Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Meryl Streep and a end-credits roll more will battle it out to win the prodigious trophy to add to their mantelpiece, give to their mum or shove in the store cupboard with their other hundred or so awards.

Like most events of this nature most, or probably a everyone in attendance will not have a disability, or one which can be easily identified from public perception. In 1990 Daniel Day-Lewis walked away with the Best Actor award for his portrayal of Christy Brown in My Left Foot. Brown had cerebral palsy and it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out which part of his anatomy was still intact. Although Daniel literally did ‘walk away with the award’, using both his feet!

Furiously surfing the Internet this morning more adventurously than Keanu Reeves in Point Break (Yes, we are aware that dismal movie failed to win a BAFTA, but the director Kathryn Bigelow went on to pick one up for the Hurt Locker) we thought we would compile a list of genuine disabled actors who have appeared in movies. However, we weren’t very successful.

Either we did a rotten tomato job, or there is a lack of disabled actors in the movie business. Apart from dwarfs – where we could list such films as Time Bandits, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and chuck in R2D2 for good measure the only four films slotting into that category...

First up there’s Paula Sage who starred in the 2003 movie, Afterlife, Paula has Downs Syndrome and played the role of Roberta Brogan, who also had the condition. In 1997 Firdaus Kanga, who has brittle bones, wrote and starred in an autobiographical movie about his life called Sixth Happiness. Disabled actor Nabil Shaman had a co-starring role in City of Joy in 1992 and Steve Varden acted as well as doing his own stunts despite having cerebral palsy in the 2004 movie, Cloud Cuckoo Land. Steve wrote the film and casted himself to play a character with a less severe case of cerebral palsy than his own.

In fairness there are a few organisations in the UK which encourage aspiring actors and actresses to make their screen debut. Channel 4 offers an impressive service entitled 4 Disabled Talent which also welcomes disabled people behind the camera as well as in front of it. You can also try VisABLE People , an agency entirely focused on supplying disabled models, presenters and actors for films, television programmes and advertising companies.

We are still quite way from seeing an array of disabled actors walking down the Red Carpet on a chilly Sunday February evening but hopefully over the years times will change and one day the likes of Pitt, Clooney and Streep will enjoy a BAFTA ceremony glued to their seats applauding a genuine disabled actor, who has just beaten them to an award!

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The British Academy Film Awards are on BBC 1 this Sunday (12 February) at 9pm

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