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Casting for Characters with Disabilities

The casting directors of “CODA” say the biggest gap in representation remains actors with disabilities –  representing less than 1% of all roles.

The stars of CODA, Daniel Durant, Troy Kotsur, and Marlee Matlin

"Each time a casting director or other executive makes such a decision, it facilitates the industry’s broader journey towards fulfilling its full potential as a beacon of all forms of diversity and social justice."
Jay Ruderman
President, Ruderman Family Foundation
Still of people laughing and clapping from CODA

As we are working towards shifting on-screen representation to look more like the world we live in, more narratives are emerging that center characters with disabilities. Authentic casting of these roles (casting an actor who has the same or a similar disability to the character) is a necessary practice, and many casting directors that have been advocating for increased disability representation are beginning to see greater support for authentic casting from their employers. Lisa Zagoria, one of three casting directors on “CODA,” says this year’s Oscars will carry weight in helping accelerate change. “With movies, these awards tell people that something worked,” she said to Variety.

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Inauthentic casting happens at the financing and packaging stage. The thought process is often that they want people who are known quantities. In their minds, they are managing risk.
Delbert Whetter
Producer, Consultant, & Board Member of RespectAbility

Annually, the Ruderman Family Foundation presents the Seal of Authentic Representation to film and television projects that demonstrate leadership in the authentic casting of people with disabilities. In 2022, they recognized a number of projects including two Marvel releases: Chloe Zhao’s Eternals and Disney+ series Hawkeye. Both Eternals‘ Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) and Hawkeye‘s Echo (Alaqua Cox) are superpowered individuals who also have disabilities.

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Image of Alaqua Cox as Echo in 'Hawkeye' next to an image of her on the red carpet
She is phenomenal and part of a new culture in film and television, where authentic representation not only matters but is paramount to the kind of stories we want to tell and how we shape them.
Marvel's casting director, Sarah Finn
speaking on Hawkeye's Alaqua Cox

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