The Guardian - March 11, 2015
“The Theory Of Everything”, the film about Steven Hawking that won Eddie Redmayne an Oscar this year has caught a lot of flack from the more activist parts of the disability community, including me. In brief, we’re tired of non disabled actors winning awards for playing disabled characters, especially when disabled actors can’t get work. Plus, we hate to see tired old clichés repeated, such as the scene where Hawking … while being recognized for his astounding achievements in physics … dreams of walking again. Forget being one of the most recognized and admired physicists of all time, I just wish I could walk over and pick up a pencil.
All that aside ...
I was really impressed that Jane Hawking, Steven’s first wife who is also portrayed in the film, used a gala reception at Buckingham palace, for a very traditional disability “charity”, to suggest that what disabled people in the UK really need is better support from their government. Usually, these charity “dos” are all about raising donations for a cure, and are carefully apolitical. It’s one reason why so many disability advocates shy away from traditional charities.
Jane Hawking’s proposal is pretty vague … to use funds from companies that don’t pay taxes now to fund better support services. But it is radical and refreshing for her to even mention systemic change and economic justice in a high-profile charity event.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think we have ever heard anything so specific and political from Dr. Hawking himself, who when he talks about disability tends to stick with a very personal perspective and a somewhat blandly neutral tone. I’ve always kind of liked that about him, that he neither bemoans nor romanticizes his disability. It would be helpful, though, if he had more to say about disability in general, and the status of disabled people in society.