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David Davidson mentions several categories for images of disability in film
including:
"2. To evoke pity and underline a villain's cruelty. (Richard Widmark as Tommy
>Udo in Kiss of Death [1947] rolling an elderly woman in a wheelchair
>downstairs.]"
 
I think you need to separate these two issues out.  Evoking pity is fairly
common in films and not just in presenting the disabiled as victims of overt
villains.
 
Furthermore, you seem to miss one category entirely, which also relates to the
pity issue--To demonstrate the hero/heroine overcoming the disability (which
to me also seems different from dealing directly with issues related to
the disability, as in CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD).  Sometimes, this appears in
the form of a biopic--SUNRISE AT CAMPOBELLO, for example--but it still seems
like a separate category.
 
Just on evidence at hand, it seems to me that all of these types of disability
have become especially common fodder in TV-movie productions, perhaps much more
so than in theatrical films.
 
Perhaps because of its serial nature, televsion shows (not movies or miniseries
as such) seem somewhat more "progressive" on disability issues.  I'm thinking
in particular of the supervisor on ER who uses a crutch.  It occasionally plays
a role in an episode but is usually simply taken for granted.  Moreover,
the character herself is efficient at her job but not terribly sympathetic or
even well-liked by the other characters.
 
One other consideration--actors who play disabled characters because they
themselves are disabled.  I think especially of Lionel Barrymore, playing from
a wheelchair in most of his later roles, who could alternate between crusty-but-
loveable Dr. Gillespie in the DR. KILDARE series and evil incarnate as Potter
in IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE.
 
Don Larsson, Mankato State U (MN)
 
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