Disabled actors last night condemned a move by British film censors to label a new film featuring a disabled cast with a warning stating that the film contains "disability themes".
Special People, a British, feature-length film with a cast of mainly disabled actors playing disabled characters, was given the label by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) along with a 12A rating.
The director, Justin Edgar, is angry about the "unnecessary" labelling. "I was really surprised to get this certificate," he said. "I couldn't understand why a film censor thought it was necessary to make people aware that the film had disabled people in it."
The movie – a comedy which follows a film-maker on the verge of a nervous breakdown who is enlisted to teach a class of wheelchair-users about film-making – has garnered awards and been selected for festivals around the world.
Sasha Hardway, one of the stars, who has previously acted in Stephen Poliakoff's Friends and Crocodiles, felt that the warning may have put people off watching it. "The film is not based around disability," Hardway said. "It's got disabled characters but the film is based around their characters not their disability. If you put 'contains disabled themes', people are going to think it's about illness and that it will be negative or depressing."
After pressure from the director and the film company, the label was removed, but not until after the company had paid for promotional material which still contains the label.
Campaigners for disabled rights questioned the need for such a caveat to appear on films at all. Ian Macrae, the editor of Disability Now magazine, said: "It's the exact equivalent of putting a warning on a Spike Lee film saying, 'This film contains black people.' It's medieval thinking."
Sue Clark, a BBFC spokeswoman, said: "These guidelines are there to give the public an idea of the issues we considered when classifying films. It's not designed to make any valued judgement."
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