Hollywood Horror And The Cost Of Disability Justice
October 31st is getting scarily close, and it's without doubt costumes are the highlight of this horror-filled holiday. Whether you are the creative make-your-own type or last-minute trip to Target type, Halloween costumes can come at the cost of Disability Justice.
The entertainment industry has historically villainized bodies and minds, creating harmful stereotypes of the disabled community. Movies such as "Star Wars" (Darth Vader), "Joker", "Phantom of The Opera", "The Witches", and "Captain Hook" are just a few examples where disability has been used as horror props. There has been recent breakthroughs and positive signs that the media is finally creating three-dimensional characters and not just caricatures. For instance, "A Quiet Place", starring Deaf actress Millicent Simmonds who plays Regan, and discovers that the amplifying feedback from her hearing aid tortures the aliens and makes them more vulnerable.
Changing Faces, a leading U.K. charity which is for "everyone with a mark, scar or condition that makes them look different," recently released a campaign during the global premiere of James Bond, "No Time To Die". Changing Faces is calling out cinematic tropes. "Our campaign calls on those in the film industry – scriptwriters, casting directors, film producers, production companies and directors – to stop using scars, burns or marks as a shorthand for villainy."
It is common to see people dressing up for Halloween using straitjackets, mental institution jumpsuits, eyepatches, wheelchairs, canes, pretending to have limb differences, and so on, but these examples should be avoided. If one is using another lived experience as a costume it is contributing to systemic oppression.
Content Creator and Activist, Annie Elainey, said "The fact that one can "dress up" as some ableist stereotype of mental illness or wear a costume where they are appropriating mobility aid (cane, wheelchair) as a prop is a mockery and it unconsciously has people believing that disability has to look a certain way to be real, that disability looks a certain way and if it does not look the way they've imagined it in their mimicry then it must be fake. The consequences even show themselves in Halloween season where our very real disabilities can be assumed to be fake with that much more ease; our real mobility aids assumed "toys", our real faces are assumed "masks", and on goes the list! It culturally erases the diversity of disability, it makes a mockery of the community and the oppression; the violence and discrimination they experience FOR being disabled."
It is not just costumes that can be exclusionary. According to Treat Accessibility, “4 million children in the U.S. identify with having a disability [inaccessibility] may prevent them from Trick-or-Treating with their siblings and other kids because of something as simple as stairs.”
Elainey has shared her top tips for being inclusive during this festive holiday:
- If you have an inaccessible path (steps, stepping stones, gravel, etc) to your home, you can also create a trick-or-treat station closer to the sidewalk so they don't have to come up to your door.
- Have a well-lit path to avoid accidents/injuries, particularly for those with low vision and mobility disabilities. If there are bumps or raised sidewalks/pavement, try marking it with glow in the dark tape or paint to prevent falls.
- Refrain from using strobe lights that could trigger epilepsy seizures, sensory overload, etc. Refrain from using airborne chemicals (such as scents or fog machines) that might be allergy risks.
- Try to have allergy-friendly candy! Have them in a separate bowl and labelled, nut-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, vegan. Or you can offer party favours instead! A turquoise Trick-or-Treat bag/jack-o'-lantern decor can indicate allergy-friendly candy needed/available.
Full list available via Elainey’s Twitter thread
Writer and Disability Activist, Becca Wight says “When you are deciding on a Halloween costume it’s a good idea to make sure you’re thoroughly researching the impression the character leaves. If you’re in doubt whether a costume will fetishise or discriminate towards a group of people then it’s better to walk away.”
Wight, addresses the common misconception that ableist costumes are not a problematic issue, “For those who believe it’s not a big deal, I urge you to rethink your view on this topic and recognize your privilege. You get to put on our identities for one evening and seldom face the repercussions of it. But we are actively targeted every single day of our lives because of our differences. Ableism is a part of our everyday, so this Halloween I urge you to to contribute to good rather than further suppress and alienate minorities.”
Misrepresentation is a playground for prejudice. Representation affects the way we see ourselves, others and how we live our lives, and our Halloween costume can make a difference.