Why A Paraplegic Actress Should Play Lena Luthor On Supergirl

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I recently spoke to Larry Sapp II, owner of Abilities United Productions (a production company that advocates for paraplegic entertainment professionals), over the weekend and asked him to comment on the potential for Lena Luthor as a disabled character.

Here’s what he had to say:

“[…]Lena Luthor in the upcoming Second Season of Supergirl should be true to the comic book character as a paraplegic and should be portrayed by a paraplegic actress or they should make her able bodied. They must remain authentic. […] [I]t would be less offensive to change the character from a paraplegic to an able bodied character than it would be to hire an able bodied actor to represent and portray a paraplegic[…]. And this is another important KEY to success – I would strongly recommend that producers hire at least one writer with a disAbility […].”

The gist: a paraplegic actress should play Lena Luthor. Otherwise, Mr. Sapp would prefer to see the character made able-bodied. Additionally, the producers should also hire one or more outspokenly disabled writers. This keeps the writing team treating Lena with the authenticity that she and the disabled audience deserves.

I agree completely. 95 percent of disabled roles in TV go to non-disabled actors, according to a study reported on by Variety recently. Only 4 disabled actors appear on the 10 top shows of the 2015-2016 season, the study reports.

An immense double standard exists in Hollywood, where disabled actors can only play disabled characters, but abled actors play disabled characters all the time. In these cases, these abled actors often win awards for their work as disabled characters — in 2014, Eddie Redmayne received an Oscar for playing Stephen Hawking, for example. Other examples include Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot, Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman, and Jamie Foxx in Ray.

Considering this, the fact of the matter is that Hollywood doesn’t care about accurate representation of disabled people.

Mr. Sapp made his opinions on this very clear, as well:

“They give a ton of reasons, I mean excuses, including that this is how it has always been. Or the lack of a disAbility talent pool, which I argue it would grow if Hollywood would give those with a disAbility a reason to believe if they go through all the time and effort to educate and work at their passions and dreams of being an actor they would have the same chance, the same odds of getting an acting job as anyone else out there.”

As Mr. Sapp points out, people assume that disabled actors don’t exist. Five minutes of somewhat judicious Googling lead me to Mr. Sapp’s production company. Within 24 hours he had gotten back to me with a suggestion for an actress: Teal Sherer, star of the web series My Gimpy Life.

Besides Ms. Sherer, Ali Stroker, another paraplegic actress, recently performed in the Broadway revival of Spring Awakening. Additionally, Ms. Stroker recreated the controversial Kylie Jenner wheelchair photoshoot. When asked about it on #LiveatFive for Broadway.com, she stated:  “I didn’t know how to express my sexuality because there was no one representing it for me.” Given that comment, she would definitely understand the significance of playing Lena Luthor. Aside from all that, both actresses are beautiful and resemble the New 52 Lena Luthor to a tee.

Beyond this, casting actresses and actors with disabilities in film and TV shows young disabled people that they can succeed in the industry, just as any abled person can. Level the playing field and they will come.

Lena Luthor could be the first step to that levelling, and here’s to hoping that she is.