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10 Inspirational Disabled Characters From Sci-Fi And Fantasy

29 September 2012

From SFX:

SFX honours 10 disabled sci-fi and fantasy characters who don’t let disability stand in the way of achieving their goals.

We’ve also concentrated on characters who truly have to cope with their disabilities. Losing limbs and having them replaced by superior cyborg parts (the Six Million Dollar Man, variousStar Wars characters) is tragic, but the fact that the characters in question can get along pretty much as before (sometimes better) hardly feels like a real struggle against adversity. And yes, Dark Angel fans, we did consider Logan and his wheelchair, and he almost made the cut, but we felt his constant whinging about his situation wasn’t particularly “inspiring”.

. . . .

Gary Bell


Disability: Autism

Played with commendable dedication by Ryan Cartwright – it can’t be easy to act without looking any of your co-stars in the eye – Gary is the genius at the heart of Syfy show Alphas. He’s what the show refers to as a “transducer”, or “human antennae”, which is a fancy way of saying that he can see and feel electrical signals in the air around him and tap into them. This comes in very handy when you need to trace a phone call or use CCTV to find someone. The show’s FX team has also come up with some rather lovely effects to show us how he sees, with data streams forming beautiful patterns in the air as Gary plucks at them. Pretty cool.

Of course, some may object to the notion, propagated by films like Rain Man, that all autistic people are geniuses who have what amount to superpowers compared to the rest of the population (Gary’s powers are obviously a little more super than most…). There’s a similar character in Kiefer Sutherland’s new show Touch, a young boy who can interpret numbers and predict the future (again, another acting masterclass from David Mazouz, who can’t look anybody in the eye or even speak, except in voiceover mode). While it’s true that some autistic people can do extraordinary things, most are merely separated from the rest of us by a condition which locks them into themselves. Many would never function as well as Gary does.

Alphas doesn’t shy away from the fact that autism makes sufferers difficult to socialise with: Gary can’t relate to people properly, fails to understand certain emotions, and doesn’t think about how his words affect people. When it comes down it, though, he’s mainly just a computer nerd who’s been given powers that transcend his keyboard. Not a bad skill to have.

. . . .

Tyrion Lannister

Game Of Thrones

Disability: Dwarfism

The insults thrown at Tyrion Lannister in both the books and the TV show Game Of Thrones are, sadly, a reflection of what many dwarfs in our real world have to go through (although Tyrion, being a contrary sort, takes one of these insults – “Imp” – and makes it his own). And so there’s a lot to be said for the fact that Tyrion has emerged to become the most popular character in the series, with Peter Dinklage deservedly nabbing an Emmy Award and a Golden Globe for his performance in season one of HBO’s show.

Focusing mainly on the TV series here in case you haven’t read the books (no spoilers!), Tyrion has become the breakout character for two reasons. Firstly, his size, which automatically sets him apart from the rest of the cast… and pretty much everybody else on television, too. There’s not much serious work out there for actors like Dinklage, with only a lucky few (Warwick Davis is the best example) getting enough work and recognition to make a mark.

After a career spent steadfastly refusing to play roles that he thinks are demeaning to dwarfs (you can read him discussing this, and other things, in this excellent New York Times interview, Dinklage hit the motherlode with Game Of Thrones thanks to the fact that Tyrion is a fantastic character first and a dwarf second.

Of course his size is an important part of what makes him Tyrion, but he’s so much more: clever, sardonic, scheming, sexy and vulnerable. Tyrion is not “just” a dwarf: he’s one of the best characters on TV right now. And it’s made Dinklage a star. “They’re somewhat expecting Tyrion, you know?” he says, about attending fan events for the show. “I mean, they like me, but they just kind of want me to say my favourite lines and stuff… He’s a great character to hide behind. He’s a large personality.”

Link to the rest at SFX


11 Comments to “10 Inspirational Disabled Characters From Sci-Fi And Fantasy”

  1. Not entirely sure about the tone of that article. It seemed a little patronising and borderline insensitive.

  2. Steve, I didn’t see it. Seemed respectful to me….but maybe I overlooked something…

    I like that they are validating the creation of disabled characters, who cope with their disablity rather than just fix them with scientific mumbo jumbo.

    • It may be just me, but I read that through and didn’t much like the angle it took. I suppose it’s the whole defining characters by their disabilities that I found off-putting.

      One of the things the athletes at the para-Olympics requested is that the term ‘inspiring’ should not be used.

      This set the tone at the start.

      “And yes, Dark Angel fans, we did consider Logan and his wheelchair, and he almost made the cut, but we felt his constant whinging about his situation wasn’t particularly “inspiring”.”

      Like I said, it might be just me, but the whole thing felt a bit insensitive. Characters are only ‘inspiring’ if they stoically accept their disability (or in the case of ‘Venom’ use it manipulate people).

      Though I may well be wrong.

      • Hmmm. I see your point. I very much agree about the Logan point. I’m not a fan of stoicism, either.

        I guess I see it as a mixed bag, though, because I like what they are doing…..it is important to represent.

        And I’m probably anti-pc for saying this, but the athletes at the para-olympics can really only speak for themselves, not the entire disabled community.

        The thing is, I think that sometimes those in a targeted community sometimes get too caught up in political correctness, and forget intent. Sensitivity is important, for sure, but sometimes there are positive things happening even if they are not 100% sensitive.

        But I do see your point about this article.

  3. They got Miles Vorkosigan, so that’s a mark in their favor!

  4. “When it comes down it, though, he’s mainly just a computer nerd who’s been given powers that transcend his keyboard. Not a bad skill to have.”

    That sells that character waaay short.

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