Raspberry Ripples on the menu for Hugh Grant and Liz Hurley

Click to follow
It was an idea to make the blood run cold. An ageing doctor, played by Gene Hackman, has a mission to find a cure for people paralysed by spinal injuries, and conducts experiments on homeless people dragged off the streets. Backed by a group of spinally injured people desperate for a cure, he carries out his evil work until exposed by a young, British medic, played by Hugh Grant.

But Extreme Measures, which was produced by Liz Hurley, made the blood boil among disability groups. Now it features in the nominations for this year's "disability Oscars" - awarded for the best and worst portrayals of disabled people in the media. The awards will embarrass some of the top names in showbusiness. Ms Hurley and Mr Grant, Walt Disney Corporation, Blind Date and The Bill have all been singled out for humiliation in the Raspberry Ripple Awards.

Extreme Measures has been nominated for the worst portrayal of disabled people in the film category of the Raspberry Ripples because it suggests that people with injuries to their spines will do anything - even commit murder - to find a cure.

The awards, first given last year, are backed by more than 100 celebrities including the actors Dame Judi Dench, Lindsay Duncan and Richard Wilson, the film-maker Sir David Puttnam and Charles Denton, chairman of the Arts Film Lottery Board and former head of drama at the BBC. Organised by One in Eight, the disability pressure group, they are intended as a light- hearted dig at those who shape the media to think about how they portray the one in eight of the population who have some disability.

One of last year's winners in the "worst portrayal" category - Walt Disney for The Hunchback of Notre Dame - is nominated again this year for the character Poacher in 101 Dalmations. Poacher tries to kill the puppies and his scarred face and speech impediment "reinforces the link between facial disfigurement and evil," according to One in Eight.

Disney was angered by the inclusion of Hunchback in last year's awards but it later emerged that more than 100 members of the British Scoliosis Society, for sufferers from curvature of the spine, had complained of increased harrassment and name calling after the film was released. Alastair Burt, the former minister for disabled people, wrote to Disney to complain about the merchandising of hunchback statues and bubblebaths linked with the film, which had caused "increased intolerance", he said.

Other nominations for "worst portrayals" include Thames TV's The Bill for an episode in which a blind woman - played by a sighted actress who required lessons from the Royal National Institute for the Blind - is shown as the pathetic and helpless wife of a man who is murdering prostitutes.

ITV's Blind Date is also nominated for "the consistent absence of disabled people from the programme, reinforcing the idea of them as non-sexual." Over the years, the programme has included elderly and non-white people, but those with disabilities have yet to make an appearance.

Richard Rieser, co-ordinator of One in Eight, said film and TV producers were unthinkingly perpetuating stereotyped images of disabled people by using them as plot devices rather than as characters in their own right. "The commonest device is to portray the baddie as disfigured or disabled. If they treated blacks in that way they would be slated as racist. Programme makers should have a social responsibility about these things. We want realistic portrayals, not stereotyped images."

Of Extreme Measures, he said: "I was amazed that they went into it without considering the impact it would have at all. The dramatic tension was good but it showed diasbled people in an apalling light."

The Raspberry Ripples - Cockney rhyming slang for cripples - are to be presented at a gala evening compered by the actor Alan Cummings on 3 December, to be shown on Channel 4. Among those nominated for best portrayals are the film Shine, for its sensitive account of the pianist David Helfgott's mental breakdown, EastEnders, for the realistic way in which the character Joe Wicks's schizophrenia was handled, and the ITV game show Strike it Lucky (since renamed Strike it Rich) for including a contestant with learning disabilities.

Ballot papers for the awards, to be returned by 19 November, can be obtained from the One in Eight Group, 78 Mildmay Grove, London N1 4PJ. Tel 0171 -254-3197.

Comments