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Boston nonprofit again upset about able-bodied actor playing individual with disability

Actor Jake Gyllenhaal and Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman at the Rome Film Festival last year. AFP/Getty Images

Just as it did when Jake Gyllenhaal played a double amputee in “Stronger,” last year’s movie about Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman, the Boston-based Ruderman Family Foundation is crying foul about the casting in a new movie.

The foundation, which advocates for the inclusion of people with disabilities throughout society, says Joaquin Phoenix has no business playing cartoonist John Callahan in the new Gus Van Sant film “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot.”

“The time has come for the entertainment industry to audition and cast actors with disabilities to play leading roles portraying disability,” Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, said in a statement. “As we enter 2018, American society no longer finds it acceptable for white actors to play black, Asian or Hispanic characters. It is equally unacceptable and offensive for able-bodied actors to be cast inauthentically in the roles of characters with disabilities.”


Van Sant’s film, debuting Friday at the Sundance Film Festival, tells the story of Callahan, who became a quadriplegic at 21 as a result of a car accident. After the accident, he established himself as a great and somewhat controversial cartoonist.

The Ruderman Family Foundation was similarly upset when Gyllenhaal was cast as Bauman in “Stronger.”

“Gyllenhaal may have been the best actor for the part, but if actors with disabilities are never given a chance to audition, they will never have the opportunity to reach the success that someone like Gyllenhaal has achieved,” Ruderman said at the time. “People with disabilities are twenty percent of our society yet represent less than two percent of the actors we see on screen.”