Despite being showered with critical acclaim for a gripping performance in her latest box office blockbuster, ‘US,’ actress Lupita Nyong’o‘s vocal alterations for the role – which she’s stated was inspired by the condition Spasmodic Dysphonia – earned her headline grabbing jeers from disability advocates.
Spasmodic Dysphonia, a muscular disorder that distorts the sounds of a person’s voice, became a hot topic when the Oscar winner took to Variety to say:
“I was inspired by the condition Spasmodic Dysphonia which is about from a trauma—sometimes emotional, sometimes physical—and it creates this spasming in your vocal cords,” Nyong’o stated. “It’s inspired by the condition, it’s not an exact replica of the condition.”
Once word landed on the desk of the National Spasmodic Dysphonia Association (NSDA), the organization released a statement condemning the film for its villainous depiction of the condition.
“We understand that hearing the unique sound caused by symptoms of Spasmodic dysphonia was the spark of inspiration for the voice of this character,” NSDA said of Nyong’o’s character. “What is difficult for us, and for the thousands of people living with spasmodic dysphonia, is this association to their voice with what might be considered haunting.”
To add, after Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility (a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas of people with disabilities), issued a statement calling Nyong’o’s performance ‘marginalizing,’ NSDA director Kim Kuman said:
“Spasmodic dysphonia is not a creepy voice; it’s not a scary voice. It’s a disability that people are living with and shouldn’t be judged upon.”
The hoopla led the actress to offer a formal apology on ‘The View’ recently (March 28):
“The thought that I would, in a way, offend them was not my intention,” Nyong’o said on Thursday. “In my mind, I wasn’t interested in vilifying or demonizing the condition. I crafted Red with love and care.”
To which the advocacy group responded:
“We appreciate Lupita Nyong’o’s heartfelt apology…We hope Nyong’o will use this experience to continue lifting up all marginalized groups including the 1-in-5 people who live with disabilities,” they said. “In general, the Hollywood practice of using disability primarily to villainize people or to show them as objects of pity needs to end.”