NEWS: 'Blind' Review. Should a sighted actor play a blind man? WAFTB's Brian Bushway reviews that and 'Blind'. Image: Alec Baldwin and co-star Demi Moore walk in a park during the filming of 'Blind'. Alec Baldwin is holding a white navigation cane and wearing sunglasses.

THE MOVIE

A novelist blinded in a car crash which killed his wife rediscovers his passion for both life and writing when he embarks on an affair with the neglected wife of an indicted businessman.

That’s the synopsis for ‘Blind‘, which opened to limited release on July 14th.

The progeny of the late American creative wunderkind Norman Mailer – Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, journalist, essayist, playwright, film-maker,actor and political activist – are the creative driving force behind the movie: Michael Mailer as Director/Producer, and John Buffalo Mailer as Writer and the character Jimmy, with the story by Diane Fisher, who also has a Producer credit.

Lead actor Alec Baldwin is also credited as an Executive Producer.

Co-stars include Demi Moore and Dylan McDermott.

If you can’t find the movie showing in your local listings, ‘Blind’ is available to purchase or rent at Amazon and on iTunes.

Poster for the movie 'Blind' shows Alec Baldwin and co-star Demi Moore at night with the blurred lights of New York City visible across the Hudson river.

THE CONTROVERSY 

Disability organization condemns ‘Blind’ film for casting Alec Baldwin in lead role

From L.A. Times by Tre’vell Anderson:

The Ruderman Family Foundation, a leading organization advocating on behalf of disabled people, has come out against the film “Blind.” The group accuses the movie of “crip-face” — akin to blackface — in its casting of the able-bodied Alec Baldwin as the blind lead.

“Alec Baldwin in ‘Blind’ is just the latest example of treating disability as a costume,” Jay Ruderman, the foundation’s president, said in a statement. “We no longer find it acceptable for white actors to portray black characters. Disability as a costume needs to also become universally unacceptable.”

Last July, the Foundation released its Ruderman White Paper on Employment of Actors With Disabilities in Television.  The study found that despite those with disabilities representing nearly 20% of our population, about 95% of characters with disabilities on television are played by able-bodied actors. More below video.

WAFTB PERCEPTUAL NAVIGATION INSTRUCTOR BRIAN BUSHWAY REVIEWS THE MOVIE & CONTROVERSY

VIDEO SETTINGS

Be sure to click on the Settings icon (gear sprocket) to choose 720HD for the best quality playback. And feel free to click on the curved arrow in the top right corner to share this video with family, friends and colleagues. You can also join the conversation about the issues involved in this story at our Facebook page.

THE MAKERS OF ‘BLIND’ RESPOND TO BRIAN’S REVIEW

Screegrab from Twitter reads: BLIND @BlindTheMovie: Thank you for the fair and excellent review of BlindTheMOvie and supporting our decision of casting the great Alec Baldwin as a blind writer. Image: Screengrab of @WAFTB A Blind Man reviews 'Blind' 2017 with links to our coverage on Facebook and on this page.

HOW THE CONTROVERSY STARTED AND PLAYED OUT

'Blind' Accused of 'Cripface'. Casting of Baldwin as a blind man condemned. Image: Photo of Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation stands next to Actress Marlee Matlin.ORIGINAL STATEMENT: 

Ruderman Family Foundation Condemns ‘Blind’ Film for Casting Alec Baldwin in Disability Role

Ruderman Family Foundation calls on Hollywood to end the disturbing practice of casting actors without visible disabilities to play characters with disabilities

The Ruderman Family Foundation, a national leader in disability inclusion, has expressed its disappointment in the casting of Alec Baldwin for the leading role of blind man Bill Oakland in the new film, Blind, set to be released later this month, once again overlooking the opportunity to cast actors with disabilities.

“Alec Baldwin in Blind is just the latest example of treating disability as a costume. We no longer find it acceptable for white actors to portray black characters. Disability as a costume needs to also become universally unacceptable,” said Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation.

The film starring Alec Baldwin and Demi Moore tells the story of Bill Oakland, a novelist who lost his wife and his sight in a car accident. A few years later, socialite Suzanne Dutchman is forced to read to Bill a few times a week as part of a plea bargain for being associated with her husband’s insider trading. They begin a love affair and Suzanne is forced to choose which man to be with.

“About half of all Oscars for Best Actor in the last three decades have gone to able-bodied performers playing a character with a disability. It’s clear that audiences want to see stories about people with disabilities, and it’s about time we start actually casting the thousands of available, talented actors with disabilities to fill these roles,” added Jay Ruderman. The Foundation’s condemnation is based on the pervasiveness of this casting practice as well as on the widely covered Ruderman White Paper on the Employment of Actors with Disabilities, a study which found that only 5% of all characters with disabilities on screen were portrayed by actors with disabilities.

Hollywood movies routinely deny self-representation to actors with disabilities, a practice often called ‘crip-face’, echoing the now socially unacceptable practice of ‘black-face’. “We can act too,” said Micah Fowler, the star of the acclaimed show Speechless who himself has cerebral palsy. He spoke at the Ruderman Studio-Wide Roundtable on Disability Inclusion, attended by approximately 200 industry insiders last November, to discuss how to work together to better integrate people with disabilities into the film and television industry. “Give us a chance. Please!” Fowler said.

The Ruderman Family Foundation continues to fight for the self-representation of people with disabilities on screen. In February, they launched the Ruderman TV Challenge, designed to reach television and film executives and content creators with a very simple request: audition and cast more actors with disabilities. The Foundation is tracking pilots and existing series that are picked up for production and will study which content creators and networks excelled at the challenge. The results are expected to be released in September prior to the Emmys.

WAFTB Editor’s Note from the LA Times: 

In November, the organization hosted its first Studio-Wide Roundtable on Disability Inclusion. At that event, Marlee Matlin (pictured above with Jay Ruderman), perhaps the most visible and acclaimed disabled actress, spoke about the need for Hollywood to give disabled actors a chance.

“There is something wrong with this picture,” said Matlin, who 30 years ago won an Oscar for her leading role in Children of a Lesser God.“ “We as an industry keep talking about diversity — we know we have a problem. But, sadly, when we start speaking about diversity, disability seems to be left out far too often.”

'Blind' Director Fires Back. "Political Correctness" versus "Cultural Facism". Image: Photo shows, from left to right, Alec Baldwin, star and Executive Producer of 'Blind'; John Buffalo Mailer - Writer; Michael Mailer, Producer and Director of Blind all on the red carpet at the movie's premiere in New York.

‘BLIND’ DIRECTOR’S RESPONSE VIA DEADLINE.COM

DEADLINE EDITOR’S NOTE: Michael Mailer, director of the Alec Baldwin-starring film Blind that opens today (July 14), was criticized this month by the nonprofit Ruderman Family Foundation for casting an actor who was not actually blind as the lead. (In the Vertical Entertainment film, Baldwin plays Bill Oakland, a novelist who lost both his wife and his eyesight in a car accident.) The foundation’s goal is “to fight for the self-representation of people with disabilities on both big and little screen.” Said president Jay Ruderman in a statement July 5: “Alec Baldwin in ‘Blind’ is just the latest example of treating disability as a costume. We no longer find it acceptable for white actors to portray black characters. Disability as a costume needs to also become universally unacceptable.” While Mailer — the son of Norman Mailer who is making his directorial debut with the movie — recognizes the good work of the foundation, he takes issue with its viewpoint. Here is his response, which he titled “Where Does Political Correctness End and Cultural Fascism Begin?” Comment thread here.

My soon-to-be-released film Blind was recently criticized by the Ruderman Family Foundation, a disabled advocacy organization, for casting Alec Baldwin in the role of a partially blind man. Their objection is that Alec is not actually blind. In its statement in the July 5th Los Angeles Times, the Foundation accuses the film of “crip-face,” (a takeoff on blackface). Not only is such a statement unhelpful to disabled advocacy, it also in effect discredits Academy Award-winning performances over decades by the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot, Jamie Foxx in Ray, Jon Voight in Coming Home, Al Pacino in Scent Of A Woman, and Eddie Redmayne in The Theory Of Everything to name just a few.

Denigrating these actors and films is both ignorant and unfair. I have always said no movie – particularly an independent one – ever wants to get made. It must be dragged, kicking and screaming, into production. In order to greenlight an independent film, one must attract a “name” actor for a fraction of a studio paycheck if there is to be any chance at getting the film financed. And while I’m sure there are many talented, vision-impaired actors out there, I do not currently know of any who have the marquee appeal needed to get even a modestly budgeted film made. Such are the realities of film financing today. If Jay Ruderman had his way, none of the above-mentioned movies, including mine, would ever have been produced; these inspiring stories that delve into the aspirations and empowerment of the disabled, would not be told, and our cultural horizons would surely be dimmer.

This situation also speaks to the larger forces governing political correctness, which have become so poisonous as to ossify any helpful and progressive cultural discourse. If political correctness can be used as a cudgel to attack the very freedoms of expression the United States so cherishes, how can such a notion protect against the clear and present countervailing forces of brutishness that succeed in destroying advances in human rights. My father Norman Mailer, an active voice against the fascistic tendencies present in America’s oft-fragile democracy, wrote many novels set in lands to which he had no physical or hereditary relationship. Because he was not Egyptian or German by birth, did he have no business writing about ancient Egypt and Hitler’s youth? Art and political correctness rarely mix. And that’s kind of the point. But when the requirement to be PC stifles freedom of expression, a line has been crossed.

As a producer-director, I would welcome an expanded pool of talent and greater opportunity to work with the disabled. (In fact, a number of disabled people were cast in speaking and background roles in Blind.) So rather than attempt to score cheap media points by going after talented actors like Alec Baldwin – who was simply excited by the professional challenge of playing a disabled character – why doesn’t the Ruderman Family Foundation focus on creating constructive dialogue and programs to advance actors who suffer from disabilities.

I applaud the good work they do. There are bigger fish to fry than my little film.

RUDERMAN FAMILY FOUNDATION RESPONSE TO DIRECTOR

Screengrab from Deadline.com. Headline reads: 'Blind' Movie: Ruderman Foundation responds to Director over Alec Baldwin casting flap. Images show the Foundation lofo and a photo of Alec Baldwin and co-star Demi Moore outdoors on the set of 'Blind'.

FROM DEADLINE.COM

EDITORS NOTE: Over the past two weeks, a controversy has been brewing over the casting of Alec Baldwin as a blind man in the Michael Mailer-directed indie Blind. Led by the Ruderman Foundation — a non-profit that advocates for the full inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of life — the issue was raised as to why the filmmaker would cast a seeing actor for a blind role. Mailer responded last week — the day the indie drama opened in theaters — in a guest column on Deadline, arguing that many of the films depicting disabilities — My Left Foot, Ray, Coming Home, Scent Of A Woman and The Theory Of Everything among others — would likely not have been made if bigger-name actors were not attached. Today comes the response from Ruderman Foundation president Jay Ruderman, which he titled “Alec Baldwin Didn’t Cause the Problem, But He Can Help Solve It.”

We are very glad that our comments on the miscasting of Alec Baldwin in Blind have generated a nationwide conversation. The impetus behind our advocacy for inclusion of people with disabilities is the sad and simple fact that even though people with disabilities are a legally protected group, they still face some of the most pervasive discrimination and segregation in our society.

Michael Mailer listed one example of this discrimination when he named several actors who have played a character with a disability — Daniel Day-Lewis, Eddie Redmayne, Jamie Foxx, Al Pacino. What all these actors have in common, in addition to incredible talent and Oscars, is that not a single one had the disability they portrayed. As a matter of fact, in the last three decades, about half of all the Oscars for Best Actor have gone to able-bodied performers playing a character with a disability. While about 20% of the U.S. population has a disability, only 2.4% of speaking characters in movies do, and 1.7% of television characters do. When it comes to actual actors with disabilities on screen, not just characters, the numbers are even lower. It is painfully obvious that there is a pervasive pattern of non-representation of people with disabilities in movies and television.

We are not saying that Michael Mailer or Alec Baldwin created this problem, but we are saying that a problem exists, and as movie creators, they can help solve it. We are also by no means discrediting the remarkable performances of all the able-bodied actors who won acclaim for playing people with disabilities.

Their talent is unquestionable.

FROM DEADLINE.COM (Continued)

We are, however, questioning why a fifth of our population is nearly invisible when it comes to one of our country’s most influential mediums: movies and TV?

No amount of calling our argument “politically correct” will change the reality of systemic discrimination against performers with disabilities in Hollywood. What will lead to change is a sustained commitment on all levels of the production process to audition more performers with disabilities — a practice that in time leads to more hiring, and greater self-representation.

A common retort we receive when we push for more auditioning of actors with disabilities is that films couldn’t get financed without “name” actors. Let’s put aside the many exceptions, like Oscar-winning Moonlight, or Children Of A Lesser God, a movie that took the then-unknown deaf actress Marlee Matlin and propelled her to an Oscar. If the argument is that there aren’t any well-known stars with disabilities, then the solution goes back to a commitment to audition performers with disabilities and give them the opportunity to become well-known — after all, every big name started out as an unknown. We feel that Blind missed the chance to give just such an opportunity to a blind actor to star alongside Demi Moore — a name that is quite well-known. However, Michael Mailer points out that a few smaller roles in Blindwere indeed filled with performers with disabilities, and we commend him for that.

This kind of pipeline is exactly the kind of project that the Ruderman Family Foundation has been working on as part of our ongoing advocacy to level the playing field in Hollywood, in collaboration with longtime advocates such as Danny Woodburn, Tari Hartman Squire, Daryl “Chill” Mitchell, and others. We’ve reached out to TV producers through our Ruderman TV Challenge and have largely found a welcoming attitude. Our challenge results will come out this September, but for now suffice it to say that many people recognize that this issue is not just one of self-representation, and by far not one of “political correctness killing art,” on the contrary: art flourishes through authenticity. Audiences want to see authentic portrayals and they will spend money to see them. That’s why we’re seeing more and more excellent roles played by performers with disabilities such as Micah Fowler in ABC’s Speechless, and CJ Jones in Baby Driver, for example. There is change, but we’ve still a long way to go.

So with that said, we sincerely extend our TV Challenge to all movie creators as well: pledge to audition more performers with disabilities.

A POSTSCRIPT FROM WAFTB PRESIDENT DANIEL KISH

THE CONUNDRUM OVER ‘BLIND’

As a blind person and occasional movie-goer, I understand the controversy surrounding the need for actors with ability challenges to portray characters with ability challenges.

I raised the question of why a blind actor wasn’t cast to play a blind character when I was contracted to train sighted juvenile actor Jake Cherry to portray a 10 year old blind echolocater for the Criminal Minds episode “The Big Wheel”. I was told that they tried, but the pool of juvenile actors who were blind was very small. They said that they auditioned dozens of boys for that part before finding the best fit, and I have to say that Jake did a stellar job, both in terms of a convincing portrayal as well as his excellent responsiveness to my work with him.

There are times when being a blind actor doesn’t necessarily make you the best actor for a given role, even if the role is that of a blind character. There are lots and lots of sighted people who are rubbish at playing sighted characters.

I have been approached by several production companies about making a feature film about my work. Discussions are on the table about who might be cast to play me at various points in my life, and some of these on the list are, indeed, very big name actors, and for some of the same  reasons raised in the discussion about financing the movie “Blind”.

Very simply, big actors draw big interest. While I have huge interest in identifying blind actors to portray me, it is most important to me that the best actors are found, blind or otherwise. My primary concern is in the overall accuracy and compellingness of their portrayal. Whoever they are, they will, of course, be prepared by me for the part, whether blind or not.

Understandably, this sets up a catch-22 of finding roles that are suitable for actors and actresses who are blind, while at the same time finding blind actors and actresses who are suitable for playing roles. I, too, would like to see more blind actors and actresses out there, and I wish to support the cause. I would hope that actors who are blind would receive the same quality of training and opportunities for consideration as their sighted peers.

Daniel Kish

Image: Photo shows Daniel Kish sitting in a 'Director's chair that has the logo of the TV show 'Criminal Minds' embroidered on the back while on location in front of a house where a scene is being filmed.

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