Celebrating Actors with Down Syndrome in Mainstream Media

Celebrating Actors with Down Syndrome in Mainstream Media

James Martin, Tommy Jessop, Chris Burke and Sarah Gordy and Why They Deserve Recognition and Respect

If you’ve been watching TV shows such as “The Irish Goodbye”, “Line of Duty” and “The A Word” spin-off, “Ralph and Katie”, then you will no doubt have seen that fresh new talent has gradually been making its presence seen, heard and felt across the nation. I, for one, couldn’t be any happier for them. Yes, I am talking about actors who live with the genetic condition known as Down Syndrome. The one where your body produces an extra copy of chromosome 21.

Breaking Barriers: the rise of actors with Down Syndrome

I mentioned something very similar to this in another piece I wrote, but I talked about something entirely different back then. This time, I am actually talking about actors with Down Syndrome who have been achieving something that, ten years ago, we wouldn’t have thought possible. Not that long ago, there was a trailer about a filmmaker who produced independent movies.

Another reason I am taking great pride in talking about this is that earlier this year, actor Tommy Jessop, whose acting credits include TV’s “Line of Duty” and a stage adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”, took his acting talents to the other side of the Atlantic to Hollywood in America.

Empathy and Understanding: The Connection Between Autism and Down Syndrome

Now, even though I myself don’t live with Down Syndrome, I am autistic, so I do have an understanding of just how much more complicated life can be for people living with a physical disability and/or genetic condition.

In some ways, I can see how it can limit what you can achieve in life. In fact, looking back, when I first saw characters with physical disabilities or genetic conditions on TV and film, there wasn’t a lot they would do. They either served as a ‘bit character’ or just were there to support a storyline for another one (usually one who didn’t have Down’s Syndrome).

Shifting the Narrative: actors with Down Syndrome taking centre stage

So, for once, it’s great to see them take centre stage.

Even though, like many others, I have not seen many actors with the genetic condition on TV, this shouldn’t imply that they aren’t active or out there in that sense. For instance, despite having been on-screen a lot lately, the actress who plays Janet Mitchell in “EastEnders” is technically a supporting character. Yes, I know that due to laws surrounding various ages of child actors, she can only be on set for a few hours each day, so we don’t see her regularly.

Down Syndrome - Janet Mitchell- Source: The Sun

Trailblazers in the Industry: Otto Baxter and Beyond

One of the actors who I’ve looked up to over the past few months is Otto Baxter. He works in front of the camera and behind it as a film director. What makes this even more groundbreaking is that he is the first director with Down Syndrome. He is undoubtedly a trailblazer; if he were to go Stateside, he would also help break down barriers there. I applaud him because not only is he aware of his own abilities, but he’s harnessing them, too.

Inspiration and Possibility: The Impact of Representation

In fact, an individual with the same condition can look at someone like him and think to themselves, ‘If he can direct and star in film and TV projects, why can’t I? What’s there actually to stop me?’

And that is the point, indeed. All it takes is for someone deemed as ‘different’ to help break down a few doors and become a trailblazer for those who otherwise didn’t see it as possible. After all, what can someone born without an extra chromosome 21 do that one born with one can’t?

In other words, what can someone with Down Syndrome not do that someone without can?

Challenging Stereotypes: The Power of Perseverance and Talent

An equivalent to this is like telling someone who has no arms or legs that they can’t create works of art because they’re unable to hold a paintbrush; an individual who has severe dyslexia that they lack the skill to become a successful writer; an individual with autism that they wouldn’t make a great counsellor or therapist because they are unable to understand human emotions.

For me, an autistic person, I say, ‘so that, do what you want.’ the only barrier is what people make, and people like Otto Baxter show that it is possible to become whatever you want to be. Let’s go and bust some barriers.

For every person who breaks down a barrier, another person will bring down another one till there are none left to overcome.