"Photoshopped out of existence": Paralympic champion criticizes Dwayne Johnson for playing amputee in 'Skyscraper,' argues for more inclusivity
Scarlett Johansson caught so much heat for agreeing to portray a transgender man in the upcoming drama 'Rub & Tug' that she had little choice but to back away from the role. It was not the first time she found herself embroiled in such a controversy either, with many taking offense to her casting in 'Ghost in the Shell' and criticizing her for cultural appropriation. Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson seems to be the next in line to face the ire, with four-time Paralympic Games champion and bilateral above knee amputee Katy Sullivan calling the actor out for portraying a disabled veteran in his recently released thriller movie 'Skyscraper.'
Sullivan, whose credits include roles in 'My Name is Earl,' 'Last Man Standing,' and 'NCIS: New Orleans,' penned an open letter addressing the issue which was published on Deadline where she details why him taking on such a role would do more harm than good for her community, imploring that he had to "stop saying 'yes' to roles like the one in that movie [Skyscraper]."
Johnson's role as an amputee FBI agent who must rescue his family from a burning skyscraper was inspired, in part, by real-life amputee Jeff Glassbrenner, whom producer Beau Flynn discovered on 'Real Sports.' Flynn revealed that Johnson "spent a lot of time" on set with Glassbrenner to ensure a realistic portrayal, but Sullivan feels that it isn't enough.
She called people with disabilities "the most marginalized group in Hollywood," revealing a startling statistic that showed that despite making up almost 20% of the world's population, less than 2% of characters were written to have a disability. Furthermore, the 2% of characters were played by able-bodied actors 95% of the time, she claimed.
Authenticity and inclusion are often points of contention in the letter. Sullivan argues that if those with disabilities were cast instead of their able-bodied counterparts — bringing to notice films such as 'Forrest Gump,' 'Stronger,' 'Me Before You,' and 'Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot' — then they could bring a complicated authenticity to the project without having to reach outside themselves, explaining how the lack of this authentic perspective was making her community feel invisible and left out. Or as she poignantly put it, 'Photoshopped out of existence.'
Sullivan also scoffed at the notion that actors such as herself couldn't handle the strict shooting deadlines and the schedules that came along with them. "There is a bit of a misconception that a performer with a disability wouldn’t be able to handle the grueling schedule of a feature film," she wrote.
"This community of ours contains some of the strongest, most capable and tough individuals imaginable. And the amount of determination they need to just deal with a world that wasn’t made with them in mind is staggering. Try navigating New York City in a wheelchair. Believe me, a movie set is a dream," she wrote.
She explains that she's written to high-level development executives in Hollywood and questioned their casting choices but received responses that went "a movie won’t get made without a name above the title," but conceded that it wasn't just a fault of Johnson's and that there needed to be a cultural shift.
Sullivan aptly concluded the letter writing: "It’s when we all band together to do the right thing for TRUE inclusion and diversity that we start to change not only the landscape of our entertainment but through that, we change the perception of what individuals with disabilities are capable of doing (in general)."