Hollywood Increases Film Portrayals Of People With Disabilities

ATHENS, Ohio -- The number of Academy Award-winning films portraying individuals with disabilities has dramatically increased since the Academy Awards were first handed out in 1928. But often the images on the silver screen distort the real lives of persons with physical impairments or mental illness, according to a new Ohio University study.

"Academy Award-winning films reflect the trend that people with disabilities are becoming more visible members of our schools and society," said Steve Safran, a professor of education at Ohio University, who conducted the study as part of his work on media portrayal of disabilities. "Unfortunately, the high frequency of psychiatric disabilities, the rare appearance of children and youth and the misportrayal of disabilities often gives viewers a skewed perspective that may have little to do with reality."

Safran examined all films that won Best Picture, Best Actor or Best Actress Oscars since the awards ceremony began in 1928. Films that had a major character with a disability traditionally served in special education -- emotional, behavioral, psychiatric, sensory, mental retardation, physical -- were identified.

From 1927 to 1939, only one award, or 2.6 percent of the total, portrayed a person with a disability. From 1990 to 1996, nine films, or 42.8 percent of the total, featured a disabled person in a major role.

Fifty-four percent of the films portrayed psychiatric disturbances, by far the most common type of disability portrayed in the films studied by Safran, followed by physical disabilities, sensory disabilities, mental retardation and autism.

Despite the recent popularity of movies portraying disabilities, Safran says viewers should be careful not to equate the depictions with reality. The preponderance of psychiatric disorders portrayed in film stems from the "imagery of m

Contact: Dwight Woodward
(614) 593-1886
Ohio University

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