A widely spread saying in Hollywood goes that portraying a mentally or physically disabled person bears more chances for an Oscar nomination that any other role, and it is true that 16% of the Oscar winners between 1927 and 2012 were in fact for performances that involved disease or disability. But what’s that portrayal like in relation to the gender of the sick person? Is it unbiased or is it different based on sex? Without any pretense of being exhaustive of such a massive subject, I would like to offer an overview of what seems to be the main recurrent themes in Oscar-winning movies and blockbusters centered around a disease or a disability. I will, in short, focus on some of the pictures that contribute the most to shape our collective image of what disease and disability look like in men and women. All of the following considerations need to be placed in a wider context: movies with female leads (healthy or otherwise) are overall significantly less than movies with male main characters. The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film found in fact that women led only 29% of the top 100 grossing films of 2016. With that in mind, we will see how Hollywood differs in portraying sick men and women and, with the exception of the mentally ill, does not chose to represent sick women as strong leads.
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