When is the last time you saw a romantic movie where a person with a disability was a leading character? Me Before You doesn’t count, since it framed loving someone with a disability as a burden. I’m talking joyful, sexy, they lived happily ever after love.
Just like all humans ever, people with disabilities are complex and unique. No one wheelchair user is the same, and our experiences are the full range of the human experience, including love and romance.
Let’s play a game, name five characters with disabilities who are even featured in a romance movie. What about Love & Other Drugs? Or Something’s Gotta Give? Now how many of those characters are played by people with disabilities in representative roles?
Love stories are at the core of human nature, and disability is an essential, interesting expression of humanity. We deserve to be represented. We deserve our happily ever. Still, Hollywood feels more comfortable with people falling for fish men, harpies, vampires, or giant gorillas than someone with a disability. Yet as barren as the romance genre can feel for disabled folks looking for representation, some films just get it right.
In The Station Agent, awkward, shy Finn (played by handsome-as-ever Peter Dinklage) moves to a small northwestern town, and finds new friendships and a love that allows him to live with more joy and openness. It is a bittersweet movie that playfully explores disability, while keeping its focus on the charming love story that serves as the films heart.
Frankie Starlight, another love story involving a dwarf protagonist, tells the story of the titular character and his life as a dwarf, his mother’s journey to survive the holocaust, and the unexpected love that blooms during the darkest years of his young life. Like Station Agent, Frankie Starlight is unafraid to recognize the very real harm of ableism, without tarnishing their sweet, optimistic stories that make the films so special.
Despite evidence to the contrary, it is possible to include disabled actors in love stories without exploiting and fetishizing. Being disabled or having a mental illness is a natural expression of the human experience. So is sex. So is love. And so is striving to tell beautiful stories that celebrate the best this life has to offer. Like our own lives, our stories will be made richer by the inclusion of perspectives that reflect the full scope of what love can represent. Cast us in your films, empower us to tell our stories, and hire us to direct our own.
Because in the end, I’m just a boy, standing in front of a multinational media conglomerate, asking them to love me.