Mentally Challenged Characters in TV and Movies

By: Becca O’Brien 

For my paper I had, a few topics I thought were interesting to talk about but this one seemed more interesting to me. I chose to look further into mentally challenged in general as well as mentally challenged actors in television shows and movies. I find this interesting because back in the day no one would even talk about mentally challenged or disabilities for that matter. It was almost frond upon to speak about. No one wanted to accept the fact that there were people with disabilities. People also did not want to have actors with disabilities playing characters with disabilities. They would hire people to play the part just so they did not have to deal with the inconvenience.

             People would just put issues like this on the back burner and act as if they did not exist. It was not until 1989 when a television show called Life Goes On had a character that is mentally challenged that was actually played by a mentally challenged actor. It was a big deal that finally, an actor was playing a role for himself or herself and not another actor was just acting that certain role. In an interview with the actor, Chris Burke who was in Life Goes On who played the mentally challenged character who is mentally challenged himself. He was saying how the show showed what everyday life was like to have a family member with a disability but also what it is like to go through life with a disability.

            After that show the topic was talked about, it was okay to bring up in conversations. More and more television shows and even movies would have roles that were mentally challenged and being played by people who are mentally challenged. I went onto IMDB and looked up movies that had to deal with mentally challenged characters. I found the top ten movies were Forrest Gump, Rain Man, and One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Now not all of these movies were played by mentally challenged people but these movies as popular as they are got many people talking. It was now okay to talk about these things. I find it interesting that after one television show and three popular movies that people were okay with talking about it. They acted like before when people were afraid to talk about it.

            The most recent movie with a mentally challenged character is Any Day Now made in 2012. It looks like a very good movie that has an important message in it for people. There are also many television shows that have characters with mental disabilities and some of them are the most popular shows. Shows like Boston Legal with having one of the main characters aspergers, and in the Big Bang Theory although the shows never says it one of the main characters has traits of autism. These are just two shows that are and were very popular and yet and characters with disabilities. There are also two shows that have characters that are mentally challenged that played a mentally challenged character. In Glee, there is a cheerleader who has this disability and in The Secret Life of the American Teenager, there was a character that has this disability also. There are more shows bring awareness to this topic. I think more people are accepting and understanding to mentally challenged characters. The shows and movies with this topic in it usually get a higher rating and more people are watching them. It might just be this time in pop culture or more people might be coming around, but I feel like this topic is not as hush hush as it uses to be. I would just like to learn more about it and why it was so secretive back then and why it changed to what it is now. 

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