Created By: CodeMan38 on December 13, 2009 Last Edited By: Erda on August 6, 2015
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Crip Drag

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The term "crip drag", quite simply, refers to when a character with a disability is played by someone without that disability. (And yes, this is an actual term used in disability discourse; Google it and see for yourself.)

This is so common that it'd probably be best to limit the listing to aversions, subversions, satires, etc. For example:

Aversions
  • I Am Sam is a partial aversion. Of course, Sean Penn isn't developmentally disabled-- but many of the actors who play Sam's housemates are.
  • The Farrelly Brothers movie The Ringer is both a satire and a partial aversion. The plot centers around a guy who pretends to be developmentally disabled to get into the Special Olympics as part of a bar bet... and quickly ends up being discovered as a fake by the Special Olympians. Several of whom are actually played by developmentally disabled actors.
  • Many deaf actors. Marlee Matlin, Shoshannah Stern, Deanne Bray, just to name three.
  • Geri Jewell, who played Jewel on Deadwood and Geri on The Facts of Life, actually has cerebral palsy.
  • S. Robert Morgan, who played Butchie on The Wire, is actually blind.

Satire
  • The Ringer, as mentioned above.
  • Tropic Thunder satirizes this with the Show Within a Show "Simple Jack", but not as well as it could have in this troper's opinion (it mocks crip drag, but merely to a "But Not Too Disabled" extent).

I know there are other aversions and satires out there, but they're not coming to mind.
Community Feedback Replies: 48
  • December 13, 2009
    Sparky Lurkdragon
    Don't watch enough movies to provide any examples, but this definitely seems tropeable.
  • December 13, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    RE: Deanne Bray; her husband, Troy Kotsur, is also a deaf actor.
  • December 14, 2009
    random surfer
    Corky from Life Goes On had Down Syndrome, and was played by someone with (a relatively mild case of) Down Syndrome.
  • December 14, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    On South Park, Cartman tries to pass himself as mentally challenged to compete in the Special Olympics, thinking he can beat them easily. He fails miserably because Special Olympics athletes are... well, athletes, while the obese Cartman gets winded right out the gate.
  • December 14, 2009
    Cidolfas
    Didn't Christopher Reeve play the role of a quadriplegic late in life?
  • December 14, 2009
    Duncan
    Real Life: There was recently an issue regarding this in NYC with a stage adaptation of The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, in which the writer gave the deaf-mute character (who doesn't speak in the original novel) two direct-address monologues to the audience, and the actor playing the role was not deaf.
  • December 14, 2009
    JackButler
    Oscar winner Harold Russell, who lost both hands during World War II and who used prosthetic hooks, only played one role in which his character was written as disabled: The Best Years Of Their Lives. In all his other roles, he played men who just happened to be disabled, but the disability wasn't the point of the character.

    Actor/musician Jim Byrnes lost both his legs in a car accident. Most of his roles are of the "a guy who just happens to not have his legs" type.

    And lastly, Robert David Hall, who plays the coroner on the original CSI also lost his legs in a car accident. The only time in his entire career he was ever hired for a role because of his disability was when he played the amputee Mobile Infantry recruiter in Starship Troopers.
  • December 14, 2009
    random surfer
    @Cidofas: Reeve starred in a TV Movie remake of Rear Window, and guest starred in a few episode of Smallville as a reclusive quadapalegic doctor of science.

    In an inversion of this, Reeve also appeared in a commercial where he could walk.
  • December 15, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    Darryl Mitchell: paraplegic in real life as well as on Ed.

    Deaf actors faring better may be because it's so very easy to tell the difference between fluent and beginner's sign language. Interestingly enough, they hired a deaf actor to play the "wild boy" in Little House on the Prairie, despite the character specifically being mute and not deaf - and new enough to sign language that the actor for once seemed too fluent.
  • February 18, 2010
    DarkSasami
    This YKTTW just got cited by Metafilter. I don't know whether that's ever happened before. P'raps it needs a launch?
  • February 18, 2010
    lukebn
    ''One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest uses actual inmates of the asylum they filmed in as extras.
  • February 18, 2010
    Edgukator
    • Stuck On You obviously did not feature real conjoined twins, but it did feature Ray Valliere, a Downs Syndrome actor.
    • The 1932 movie Freaks featured many legitimately disabled actors, including "Prince Randian" (who was born without limbs), Simon Metz (born with microcephaly, a smaller skull and brain) and Minnie Woolsey (who suffered from Virchow Sekel Syndrome, a combination of skeletal malformation and dwarfism). Hard to say where it actually fits here, however, as their role was largely exploitative in the movie, so its not really an aversion either.
  • February 18, 2010
    randomsurfer
    See also Written In Infirmity.

    Lionel Barrymore's broken hip and arthritis made him use crutches in You Cant Take It With You and a wheelchair in Its A Wonderful Life (and no doubt other films but those are the only ones I acitvely know of). Grampa in You Can't Take it with you is not cripped in the stage play.
  • February 18, 2010
    Unknown Troper
    In the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan, a soldier who had just had his legs blown off was played by an actor who had lost his legs years before.
  • February 18, 2010
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    [redacted due to browser issues leading to failure of reading comprehension]
  • February 18, 2010
    Edgukator
    @ Paradisca Corbasi:

    Agreed, but read the intro Code Man 38 wrote. If we include all of the actual cases of Crip Drag we will be here forever, because the vast majority of these types of roles are played by able bodied actors.

    We're looking for satires and aversions, just to see where people diverge from reality.
  • February 18, 2010
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    @Edgukator: Thanks -- I hadn't seen that because my web browser decided to play up on me.

    • Throw Momma From The Train is an aversion. The actress who played Momma had part of her tongue removed and spoke that way due to mouth and throat cancer, which killed her not long after the movie was released.

  • February 18, 2010
    randomsurfer
    • My Name Is Earl: Didi, the one legged woman whose car Earl stole after a one night stand, and Jake her no-legged, one armed boyfriend.
  • February 19, 2010
    goodtimesfreegrog
    Because There's No Such Thing As Notability, the anti-drug Jesusplotation horror film Blood Freak has a scene where a guy's leg gets cut off, which they managed to make a bit more convincing by hiring a guy with a prosthetic leg to play the victim.
  • February 19, 2010
    randomsurfer
    ^^Ah yes, that reminds me...in Monty Python And The Holy Grail they hired a man with only one leg to play the Black Knight after Arthur chops one of his legs off.
  • April 14, 2010
    Unknown Troper
  • August 25, 2010
    Erda
    I'm with Just Launch It Already, but I also wanted to add in Artie Abrams from Glee since he's a fairly recent and notable example. Arguably a Justified Trope because there's a fantasy sequence in one episode where Artie gets up out of his wheelchair and dances. The show does Avert this with its other disabled characters; there was a quadriplegic Guest Actor in one episode and two supporting characters with Down's Syndrome, and the actors playing those characters actually had quadriplegia and Down's respectively.
  • February 27, 2011
    CastingCrowns
    Hugh Laurie is perfectly healthy, yet plays Greg House, who limps and walks with a cane because he had an enormous chunk of leg muscle removed.
  • February 27, 2011
    Worldmaker
    Thirding the Just Launch It Already.

    • Actor Michael Patrick Thornton, who is partially paralyzed and uses a wheelchair regularly (though he can walk for short distances) can regularly be seen playing a doctor who just happens to be in a wheelchair on Private Practice.
    • In a notable inversion, the late great supporting actor Dana Elcar played a lot of sighted characters late in his career, after he went blind due to glaucoma.

    • A rare in-universe example: In the novel Dream Park by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Stephen Barnes, during the course of an amazingly elaborate Live Action Roleplaying Game that utilizes high-tech special effects, the players encounter (among other things) a one-armed, one-legged zombie played by a one-legged, one-armed actress. The fact that she's real and not a special effect (most of the zombies are holographic) shocks one of the players into inaction enough to allow the amputee zombie to "kill" her.
  • February 27, 2011
    arromdee
    It should not be called "Crip Drag", because even if it's a preexisting term, it falls under N Word Privileges and can't be used by general audiences.
  • February 28, 2011
    TonyG
    In the infamous Just Shoot Me episode "Slow Donnie", Elliot's brother Donnie pretends to be mentally disabled for almost twenty years just so he didn't have to work.
  • February 28, 2011
    troacctid
    ^^ I agree, not a good name. "Crip" is an awkward word that we shouldn't use.
  • March 2, 2011
    Worldmaker
    Despite it being an actual Real Life phrase that's used to indicate precisely what the trope is about?
  • March 2, 2011
    troacctid
    ^ Yeah, despite that.

    If we get a bunch of name suggestions and nobody can come up with anything better and a bunch of people agree that Crip Drag is the best option, I'll drop my objection, of course.
  • March 2, 2011
    FrustratedRocka
    Maybe fake disability?
  • March 2, 2011
    TonyG
    Fake Disabled or Fake Disability seem fine. Crip Drag requires N Word Privileges.
  • March 3, 2011
    Worldmaker
    How about Faking Disability. Its more to the point.
  • March 3, 2011
    randomsurfer
    Faking Disability sounds to me like the character is faking it, but this is about fully abled actors playing genuinely disabled characters. (Or Is It? I'm not sure anymore.)
  • March 4, 2011
    Worldmaker
    Acting the Disability
  • March 4, 2011
    queenbri
    Aversions to this trope are required to perform Children of a Lesser God.
  • June 5, 2011
    Worldmaker
    Aversions are not examples.
  • June 5, 2011
    Aielyn
    If it's so common that you have to list aversions rather than straight examples, then isn't it pretty much, by definition, People Sit On Chairs?

    Either the trope should be worded to invert the situation (make the aversions into straight examples, and the straight examples into aversions), or it should identify something about it that isn't just People Sit On Chairs, and focus on that... then post straight examples of that more specific trope.
  • June 5, 2011
    foxley
    Disregard. I misread the original post.

    We have Obfuscating Disability for someone pretends to be disabled within a story.
  • June 6, 2011
    Bisected8
    @Aielyn: No, PSOC is (as it explains on the page itself) not just something being widespread (otherwise we wouldn't have a section for Omnipresent Tropes). It's when it doesn't have any bearing on how the media's recieved that it falls into PSOC.
  • June 6, 2011
    jaytee
    Geri Jewell practically requires potholes to The Danza.

    Some of Michael J Fox's later work skirts this territory. I don't know if I've actually seen him play someone with Parkinson's, but I've at least twice seen him play someone with a different disability/affliction. Once on Scrubs, where he played a doctor with several obsessive-compulsive... The other I can't remember off-hand (I just recal thinking "Hey, it's kind of like that Scrubs episode").
  • June 6, 2011
    foxley
    The Evil Albino in End Of Days was played the genuinely albinistic actor Victor Varnado.
  • June 9, 2011
    Worldmaker
    While the Evil Albino in The Da Vinci Code was played by the non-genuinely albino Paul Betthany.
  • July 17, 2011
    GinaInTheKingsRoad
    Discussed and Lampshaded in Martin Mc Donagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan- young Cripple Billy is not cast in a film about a disabled character because, "[it's] better to cast a normal fella who can act crippled, than a crippled fella who can't act at all." The actor playing Cripple Billy is almost always not disabled.
  • July 18, 2011
    GinaInTheKingsRoad
    While I'm at it, this has had several sponsors since being suggested in December 2009 (!) and has 5 hats attached to it, and I'm willing to take it up now. Since most of the examples are aversions and invocations, I suggest the title be Authentically Disabled Actor or something along those lines. Crip Drag is a valid term that is used in the discussion of the portrayal of the disabled by the able-bodied in media-- and should be mentioned in the description-- but the trope would be about disabled actors playing disabled characters. It's related to Cast The Expert.

    Should I continue with this here, or gleam the relevant examples and start a new YKTTW?
  • October 10, 2011
    ArtFever
    Giving this a well deserved nudge.
  • October 10, 2011
    Fanra
    In the novel Dream Park, it describes a futuristic form of live action role-playing games (LARP) played in a recreational resort. Holograms and computers are used for special effects. In one game, the players come across people with limbs missing. One of the players is startled when they discover the person they are "fighting" is not a hologram but an actual person missing a limb who was hired to play the role.
  • October 10, 2011
    Worldmaker
    Specifically, the one-legged actress in Dream Park was playing a zombie.
  • August 6, 2015
    zoop
    1. Crip Drag is not a good name both for the reasons stated above, and because nearly all of the listed examples are aversions. Maybe this is just me, but I hate pages where aversions outnumber examples. If we're listing disabled actors in disabled roles, then that's what the trope should be about.

    2. The "My Name Is Earl" example never makes it clear if it's a straight example or an aversion.

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