You Have a Boyfriend?: Representations of Disabled People and Intimacy in Film



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Disabled people have the same romantic and sexual desires as nondisabled people, yet many still fail to see disabled people as capable of being an equal part of a healthy relationship. Much of the general population is only exposed to disabled people through film and television, so how these pieces of media portray disabled people in relationships informs how the general population sees disabled people in relationships. For this project, four pieces of media were studied: two films and two television shows. One film and television show featured a disabled character played by a disabled actor, while the other featured a disabled character played by a nondisabled actor. In each piece of media, the portrayal of the disabled characters’ relationships were studied to identify patterns in the portrayals. The portrayals were also compared with works in disability studies to identify why these patterns in the portrayals of disabled relationships occur. In the studied media, disabled characters played by nondisabled actors tend to portray disabled people as asexual or incapable of being in a loving, mutually beneficial relationship. The characters’ disabilities were also framed as the problem in their relationships, despite the characters often treating partners/potential partners badly. This contradicts the experience of many disabled people, but the stereotypes created by this media makes it harder for disabled people in the real world to find relationships.