Blind actors: Is there a right way to do it?

“In the Dark” came to my attention in March of this year, when the National Federation of the Blind, the country’s largest and most influential blindness organization, announced a protest. The group staged demonstrations just before CBS’s midtown headquarters just a few weeks later. A sighted actress played a blind character in the show, causing the protest. As blind protesters stood in the middle of West 53rd Street, they held signs reading “Let Us Play Us!” 

In another, we find the words “In another.” We must stop now! The protest was announced by Mark Riccobono, NFB president. Despite their talent and accomplishment, sighted actors cannot deliver the same insight and authenticity to blind characters.” As of June 2010, production on The Amazing Race had been completed, and the NFB asked the network to trash the first season and replace Perry Mattfeld with a blind actors. In spite of these demands, CBS Studios produced the series on schedule.

As Murphy, a 20-year-old single blind woman, navigates the wreckage of her life, “In the Dark” recently began its third season. Murphy’s blindness does not directly contribute to most of her problems. Almost any millennial surviving in the post-Veronica Mars world will recognize her problem: She hates working at the guide-dog school her parents run, yet she finds it a great source of friendship. Smoking, drinking, and sleeping around can’t keep her away from her habits.

The show’s sarcastic tone is constantly broken by the character’s self-destructive behaviors, as well as the cartoonish criminal underworld whose violent behavior constantly interrupts her relationship with the guy who works at the poorly named food truck (“Dirty Sliders”). Her character Murphy, who was once friends with a drug dealer, discovers the body of the teenager she once befriended, identifying him by feeling the contours of his face, which she had felt earlier that episode, on a lark. 

Murphy investigates her friend’s murder after the body disappears and no one believes her story; she becomes a blind eyewitness – a detective without sight. As the series follows Murphy as she walks her guide dog through CW-rich Chicago (Greater Toronto), her gaze wobbly and unfocused, head cocked as she searches for clues.

It’s especially relevant for me to watch the show since, at present, I’m caught somewhere between being able to see and being blind. Since I was a child, I have gradually lost my sight. It was initially imperceptible – both to me and to others. In the years I’ve been blind, I’ve reached a few milestones: I’ve stopped driving at night in my early 20s, I’ve stopped driving entirely in my late 20s. I gave away my bicycle a few years later. 

At my age, I’m no longer able to see well in low light. I have tunnel vision, so handshakes and high-fives are a common thing for me now. Without my cane, it’s likely I would walk into a signpost, kick your dog, and fall off a curb on my way across town. Nevertheless, I can read print (particularly if it is large), watch TV, and pass for sighted quite easily. Publicly, it feels like I perform my disability: People see the cane as a universal symbol of blindness, and predict I am blind – which I am, but not in the way they expect.

 I can feel people wondering (in the most painful cases, they can even hear me) why I’m faking it whenever people see me making eye contact with them or reading a street sign. Even though it makes me feel a little uncomfortable, I am relieved when I accidentally touch my cane to something I had no idea was there! People often look at you, then look away, then look again when you are publicly disabled: It’s like being a celebrity. The experience is like training as an actor in preparation for a role of a lifetime: a blind actors.

It intrigued me how Mattfeld could appear blind even while standing perfectly still, despite the fact that she was standing still. Having spent plenty of time around blind people, many of whom were occupational blind people who dealt with the newly blind, helping them figure out things like how to get to the bus stop and cook without sight. Nevertheless, I wanted to see how a convincing performance of blindness is constructed, so I observed up close how someone who acts blind professionally does it. To learn more about how “In the Dark” is made, I visited the Toronto set during its second season, and spent time watching the show.

As a non-disabled actor, blindness may be among the easiest disabilities to portray: There is no rigidity in the body or facial contortion to emulate that won Daniel Day-Lewis an Oscar for “My Left Foot” (1989, the best actor), although it wasn’t necessary for her to learn sign language for “The Shape of Water” (2017, the best actress nomination). I would point out that most blind people do not watch television, but the sort of cultural work it does not require you to be able to look at the visuals. In film and TV history, we have seen numerous negative portrayals of blindness, including Thomas Edison’s “The Fake Beggar” (1898) to Al Pacino’s “Scent of a Woman” (1992, the best actor).

Yet the NFB hasn’t organized a protest of a film or TV show since 1940, most recently in 2008 after the release of Fernando Meirelles’s adaptation of José Saramago’s novel “Blindness.” In the article, the film (and novel) portrays blind actors as “monsters” due to their sudden blinding that disrupts society. Blind actors are challenged by the task of inhabiting the experience of being blind, to convey both its emotional and practical effects.

In “Ray” (2004, the best actor, Jamie Foxx) and “All I See Is You” (2017), Blake Lively and Jamie Foxx wore prosthetic eyes, rendering them physically blind during the performance. Fox told interviewers that he had begun hyperventilating as soon as the filmmakers fused his eyes closed with the custom prosthetic eyelids they attached to his eyes – unlike real blind people, who can practice their orientation and mobility skills for years. Some basic tropes tend to apply to blind characters.  As such, there are the blind seers, like Tiresias from Greek mythology or Neo from the “Matrix” series, who gain a spiritual second sight from their blindness. 

Critics refer to this type of character as a supercrip, someone who has compensated so spectacularly for their disability that they become a superhero – like Daredevil, the blind vigilante whose remaining senses have become extraordinarily acute. In contrast, old Mr. In addition to Magoo, the nearsighted buffoon who inadvertently destroys everything in his path, there are the disabled porn stars who tell stories about overcoming hardships in order to cheer up the non-disabled viewers. With “In the Dark” the idea of blindness was presented in a way that went beyond clichéd depictions. 

 

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