EDITORS NOTE: Michael Mailer, director of the Alec Baldwin-starring film Blind that opens today, 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?”
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.