Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Help Wanted

A modeling agency based in Atlanta, Georgia recently sent a note to a member of Little People of America. The note asked for help soliciting little people to dress up as the infamous movie character "Chucky" from Child's Play, then parade around New York City to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the movie, and the movie's release on DVD.

Casting agencies, production companies and television networks often send requests to various people who are members of Little People of America. Fortunately, many of these requests are opportunities to raise positive awareness about people of short stature. But some requests reflect the antiquated practice of objectifying people of short stature because of their difference in appearance.

Just last year I took a phone call from a business in Florida. The business wanted to hire a little person to greet a traveler at the airport. "Why don't you hire a limo service?" I asked the caller. "Because (the traveler) likes little people," the caller said. Obviously, based upon stereotypical portrayals of people of short stature, the business, or the traveler, found the simple appearance of a little person to be amusing.

Marching around New York City as "Chucky" probably isn't going to help the prejudicial attitudes of the Florida business, or the traveler. In fact, if the modeling agency successfully hires 50 little people, I fear what happened to the filmmaker Steve Delano will become a reality for many more little people. Steve Delano is a little person who made an autobiographical documentary called No Bigger Than a Minute. The documentary chronicles Delano's personal history as a dwarf, and also addresses broader social issues that touch the community. At one point in the film, Delano relates a particularly humiliating experience of a stranger screaming out, "Chucky, Chucky, Chucky!!!" when the stranger saw Delano on a subway platform. Poor Delano wasn't dressed up as Chucky. He was just trying to get somewhere on the train.

Delano relays the story about Chucky and other personal experiences as if he is sharing an inside joke with the audience, because he knows that even if his anecdote is specific only to him, it is an experience to which all people of short stature and their families can relate. It was easy to laugh at Delano's Chucky anecdote, but if more and more people start telling similar stories after the release of the Child's Play DVD, laughing won't be as easy.

All dwarfs have the right to pursue their interests and their needs. That includes the right to earn money portraying the character Chucky on the streets of New York City. But I look forward to the day when modeling agencies and businesses from Florida stop approaching Little People of America in search of dwarf "talent."

Until that day comes, I am proud of LPA members who, instead of ignoring the requests, respond with their concerns. In the case of the Chucky request, several members wrote back. One person wrote, " Can you imagine yourself or one of your colleagues agreeing to do this? Our members (whether persons with dwarfism themselves, or parents of dwarf children) regard such a prospect as dehumanizing, as well as harmful to the dwarfism community’s public image."
Hopefully, if we continue to express our concerns, the inquiries in search of little people to dress up as limo drivers at the airport will decrease, and calls from filmmakers such as Delano in search of little people to tell their stories will increase.

1 comment:

  1. Having worked in the entertainment industry off and on for a while, I've heard some of the same. Last year, while on The Lot working on a corporate party, I heard a producer of some sort wandering around on his cell phone trying to hire some "oompa loompas" for his event. This was right after my daughter was diagnosed, and I was feeling pretty sensitive about it, and I came really close to kicking him in the nuts. Fortunately, I realized fairly quickly that not only would that probably get my fired, it would also do absolutely no good as far as educating him. A century or so in the past, the same guy probably would have been trying to hire "porch monkeys" for an event set in the south.

    I know that part of the problem is the number of people who are willing to sell themselves that way. God bless them for earning a living, but I really don't understand the desire to humiliate yourself for money. If my daughter ends up trying to be an actor, I really hope she goes more in the direction of Peter Dinklage than Verne Troyer.

    Thanks for the great blog!