Should Deaf Characters Be Played by Deaf Actors?

'Miracle Worker,' a play about Helen Keller, draws criticism for its casting

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As The New York Times reports, a storm cloud of controversy looms over an upcoming Broadway revival of "The Miracle Worker," a play about about Helen Keller. An advocacy group for deaf and blind actors is protesting the play's casting of a non-deaf, non-blind actor to play Helen Keller. The role was awarded to 13-year-old Abigail Breslin of "Little Miss Sunshine" fame. The dispute raises a difficult question: Should producers give preference to handicapped actors to fill handicapped roles? Here's what Sharen Jenson, a director of the advocacy group Alliance for Inclusion in the Arts, says:

We do not think it’s O.K. for reputable producers to cast this lead role without seriously considering an actress from our community. I understand how difficult it is to capitalize a new production on Broadway, but that to me is not the issue. There are other, larger human and artistic issues at stake here.

Countering her complaint is David Richenthal, who argues that the brutal economics of staging a successful play justifies casting a star like Breslin:

It’s simply naïve to think that in this day and age, you’ll be able to sell tickets to a play revival solely on the potential of the production to be a great show or on the potential for an unknown actress to give a breakthrough performance. I would consider it financially irresponsible to approach a major revival without making a serious effort to get a star.

Are producers doing enough to include disabled actors in their casts? Or are disabled groups making unreasonable demands?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.