This month’s post was going to be about body confidence and actually was half written until yesterday when I caught up on this week’s (week of 12th October 2015) Eastenders on BBC One. One of this week’s storylines followed Fat Boy, the square’s much-loved cockney wide boy and Donna, a bit of a loud mouth market stall holder. The two are mates but this week we saw the sexual tension between the two of them develop into a one-night stand and how they dealt with it afterwards. How they dealt with it because Donna happens to be a short person who sometimes uses a wheelchair.
I’ve spoken about on screen representation before in the post The Curious Incident of the disabled person on Stage and I work in promoting and developing diversity within the TV industry so the idea that on screen representation of difference is important and necessary is not a new one to me. What I hadn’t fully appreciated was quite how personally important it is; how it can make you feel to see someone like you, present your story or something very similar in such a direct and relatable way.
There have been short people on screen a number of times, and the opportunities are slowly increasing with actors such as Warwick Davis and Kiruna Stamell. Although I’ve felt it was a positive thing to see someone similar to me I’ve never really felt an overwhelming connection with it. It was nice to see it but there ended the experience. That was until the character of Donna arrived in Eastenders. Here is a character that is loud, unapologetic, confident and yet a little vulnerable and insecure sometimes. Lisa Hammond, who has the same condition as me, plays Donna, she uses a wheelchair when she’s out of the house but walks when she’s at home!! Hurrah, finally someone like ME!
It wasn’t until this week that I realised how important it was for that very real similarity to be shown for me to connect. Before, all short actors and characters have either just been shown as wheelchair users or able to walk everywhere and neither of these are singularly my realities. She is also both loud and proud and a little vulnerable and insecure. Having someone on screen that represented me both physically and emotionally felt really quite empowering! To see someone like me get up out of their chair and walk around their flat and walk like me felt reassuring, to see someone whose body looks like mine is surprisingly comforting, and to see someone who is both loud and a little bit scared sometimes reaffirmed in me that it’s OK that I’m not just the vulnerable disabled girl or the loud slightly evil character. I can be me, Sam, who is loud, confident, have a good time, be a bit scared every now and again and need reassuring once in a while without that being questioned and put into one or other box.
This doesn’t just end at having the actors present on screen but is supported by the brilliant writing needed to represent the story and characters in a way that feels real. Lisa Hammond, the actor playing Donna in Eastenders, did a great job this week to show the subtleties of being a woman embarking on a possible new relationship coupled with dealing with her disability and what that means for her and Fat Boy. The vulnerability of Donna and what she was going through felt very close to home and a realistic portrayal. This was so empowering to see and has provided a lot of food for thought. I think a future post will look into this more but for now let’s just say it was great to see.
So yes, diverse representation on screen is incredibly important, not just for influencing the audience to introduce people from all walks of life so that everyone becomes the norm but also so those people from each walk of life can see themselves represented and feel a part of the norm themselves. It’s real and very personal so more must be done and be done right so I, for one, will keep working at it.