Netflix and able-bodied casting 

With the teaser trailer of “Shadow and Bone” season 2 dropping at Netflix’s TUDUM event a few weeks ago, an interesting topic that has come up has been casting. Specifically that for the role of Kaz Brekker, a disabled character in the “Six of Crows” series. 

Leigh Bardugo, author of both series, wrote Brekker with her same disability in mind. Kaz has a limp, and walks with a cane throughout the “Six of Crows” and “Crooked Kingdom” stories.

Bardugo serves as a great example of diversity in the Young Adult (YA) Fantasy genre, as someone whose writing gives audiences racial, sexual and disability representation.  

Within popular social media circles, the idea of an able-bodied actor being allowed to portray Brekker — in this case, Freddy Carteroriginated back when the show was first announced. It picked up again as hype around the second season hit its peak upon the release of the teaser, in which the Crows, including Brekker, were confirmed to be reappearing. 

This topic of disability and Netflix only heightened the conversation when some fans showed concern over how the streaming service would handle the portrayal of Wylan Hendricks — confirmed to be played by Jack Wolfe as a dyslexic character. 

Netflix hasn’t always had the greatest track record with disability and neurodivergent characters in their content. A show that easily comes to mind is Atypical, which centers around an autistic character named Sam. The show did not portray Sam in the most pleasing light, often misrepresenting autism and putting the focus on laughing at his traits. 

While some audiences showed concerns over the allistic (non-autistic) actor — Kier Gilchrist — playing Sam, others praised his performance. Or, at least, they didn’t find it as offensive as the actual writing of the show. 

Concerns over able-bodied actors playing disabled characters has been a conversation for a while. Some say that only disabled actors should be in those roles; others say that it’s more about how the character is written in the show, and the actor isn’t necessarily the biggest problem with the portrayal of disabled characters onscreen.

An example I can think of that takes the worst of the two arguments is Sia’s infamous movie “Music,” which has been called out by the autistic community for not only having terrible writing, but also terrible casting. Maddie Ziegler’s performance as the titular character came off as mocking and stereotypical, and the horrid writing certainly didn’t help her. 

The actor portraying the role is very important. Depending on how they do so, it could make the show and the character great — or horrible. 

Disability representation is something that should be written and portrayed well. This means that there should be representation on and behind the screen. Characters should be written by people who have lived these experiences — people who know how to write them correctly. 

The proper casting of these characters should be something that isn’t looked over. The disabled community should be listened to when it comes to their concerns regarding characters portraying their experiences, and that falls to casting and production.