Lupita Nyong’o is winning raves for her dual role in Jordan Peele’s new horror film “Us.” But one disabilities rights group is accusing her of “stigmatizing” people who suffer from a condition known as “spasmodic dysphonia.”
“Connecting disabilities to characters who are evil further marginalizes people with disabilities who also have significant abilities and want to contribute to their communities just like anyone else,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility.
The national nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for people with disabilities. Hollywood is a major culprit for portraying people with disabilities as evil.
Margot Durkin, who lives with spasmodic dysphonia, Tweeted her discomfort with the movie.
“I am greatly concerned that our condition has been demonized. Now in the public eye, we are ‘creepy’ sound like we have ‘swallowed a cheese grater.’ Our voice is that of a monster. I believe this mocks our disability, should be strongly condemned,” she wrote.
The overwhelming portrayal of people with disabilities in film is negative, including as the villain, according to a new report by the Ford Foundation.
Characters like Darth Vader in “Star Wars,” The Joker in “The Dark Knight,” Voldemort in the “Harry Potter” movies and, most recently, Dr. Poison in “Wonder Woman” all rely on physical deformities to convey evil.
“One of the toughest parts of having a disability is that people make assumptions based on the way you walk, talk or act, sometimes with little understanding of what is causing it,” the National Spasmodic Dysphonia Association (NSDA), said in a statement.
The statement added:
“What is difficult for us, and for the thousands of people living with spasmodic dysphonia, is this association to their voice with what might be considered haunting, wilted or a result of emotional trauma especially since spasmodic dysphonia is a neurological disorder.
Although there is no cure for the condition, injections of botulinum toxin (Botox) and speech therapy have proven very effective,” according to medical references.
Lupita Nyong’o revealed that the affliction was the inspiration for her voice in the movie during an interview with Hollywood trade magazine Variety.
She used what she called a “creepy voice” for Adelaide Wilson’s doppelgänger. Wilson is one of the lead characters in the picture.
Lupita Nyong’o said her inspiration came from Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s “scratchy” voice. Kennedy has spasmodic dysphonia.
The affliction causes “involuntary spasms in the tiny muscles of the larynx cause the voice to break up, or sound strained, tight, strangled, breathy, or whispery.” according to the NSDA.
NSDA Executive Director Kim Kuman cautions that spasmodic dysphonia “is not a creepy voice; it’s not a scary voice. It’s a disability that people are living with and shouldn’t be judged upon.”
About 50,000 people in North America have spasmodic dysphonia.
“This stereotype plays on people’s inherent discomfort with those who do not look the same as them, telling them that disfigurement—and disability,” adds Laszlo Mizrahi.
“In general—makes characters revolting and morally wrong and reinforcing the notion that “we should be afraid of people whose faces and bodies are different from our own.”
Lupita Nyong’o went to great lengths to work with an ear, nose and throat doctor, a vocalist and her dialect coach to perfect the voice and to “do it safely.”
She’s already drawing Oscars buzz for acting.
“I have much respect for Lupita and Jordan’s artistry. However, I hope this becomes a learning lesson for them to ensure more accurate portrayals of African Americans with disabilities,” said Tatiana Lee who has been working on the inclusion of African Americans with disabilities in Hollywood films.
Lee is an African American actress who was born with Spina Bifida.
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