Joaquin Phoenix’s latest role in Gus Van Sant’s “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” finds him stepping into the real-life shoes of paraplegic cartoonist John Callahan, but not everyone is happy the director cast an able-bodied actor to play a disabled character. The Ruderman Family Foundation, a national leader in disability inclusion, has criticized the movie for the casting decision, saying it is “offensive to the disability community” and “overlooks the opportunity to cast actors with disabilities to play characters with disabilities.”
“It was a mistake for director Gus Van Sant to cast Joaquin Phoenix in his upcoming biopic about disabled cartoonist John Callahan,” Jay Ruderman, President of the Ruderman Family Foundation, said in an official statement. “The time has come for the entertainment industry to audition and cast actors with disabilities to play leading roles portraying disability.”
“As we enter 2018, American society no longer finds it acceptable for white actors to play black, Asian or Hispanic characters,” he continued. “It is equally unacceptable and offensive for able-bodied actors to be cast inauthentically in the roles of characters with disabilities.”
“Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” is based on Callahan’s memoir of the same name. The story follows Callahan after a car accident laves him paralyzed at age 21. He goes on to use drawing as a form of therapy, creating taboo cartoon strips that lead to controversy in his hometown of Portland, Oregon. Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, and Jack Black co-star.
In denouncing the Phoenix’s casting, the Ruderman Family Foundation makes note that approximately 20% of America’s population is disabled, “making people with disabilities the largest minority in the country.” The group says actors with disabilities represent less than 2% of the roles seen on screen.
The movie is set to debut at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival this weekend. Amazon Studios will release “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” in theaters May 11.