advertising, Automotive Advertising, disability, Jaguar, Wheelchair

Advertising & Disability at a Crossroads: Stop typecasting and using us as props.

I love everything about Jaguar cars and I’m a big fan of Stephen Hawking, but the combination of the two in the British auto brand’s latest advertisement left me a bit disappointed. The plot line pulls in James Bond themes with actor Tom Hiddleston, portraying a secret agent and driving the Jaguar F-PACE. The luxury car maneuvers effortlessly across roadways through cinematic vistas to arrive at a futuristic mountain hideaway where Hiddleston meets Stephen Hawking. Watch the commercial before reading any further and come to your own conclusions on what type of character Hawking is supposed to be.

So how did you view Professor Hawking’s character? Was he acting as world-dominating super-villain or the quirky yet underrated genius that is one of the good guys who designs all the agents’ gadgets?

The brand’s description of the commercial doesn’t lean either way and leaves interpretation to the viewer. The world’s greatest physicist takes on a new role, as Professor Stephen Hawking stars in the first All-New Jaguar F-PACE television commercial. Directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Tom Hooper, Hawking is perhaps the greatest representation of British Intelligence, revered the world over for his intellect, creativity and elevated performance. Technologically advanced to the core, F-PACE is Jaguar’s performance SUV.

All that said, Steven Hawking wanted to portray a villain and shared on Facebook, “You all know me as Professor Stephen Hawking, the physicist wrestling with the great concepts of time and space. But there is another side to me that you may not know: Stephen Hawking the actor. I have always wanted to be in a movie playing the part of a typical British villain. And now, thanks to Jaguar my wish has come true. I am proud to present the premiere of the launch commercial for Jaguar’s first performance SUV, the new Jaguar F-PACE. –SH.”

Recognizing that Hawking wanted to play the villain, many times in the past, and still today, actors with disabilities are typecast as villains, and this perpetuates ableism and a longstanding misrepresentation that disability equals something negative, bad or evil. For a minority group that is already marginalized, portraying villains could perpetuate misunderstandings.

Throughout the history of advertising minorities have faced and overcome diversity and inclusion issues, but many challenges still remain.

While the creative director’s decision to include Stephen Hawking went beyond selecting him based on his wheelchair and computerized voice, I have to believe those played a part and for all intents and purposes those are props. I am wholeheartedly an advocate for hiring actors with disabilities to portray people with disabilities, but their inclusion and portrayals in advertising shouldn’t be tied to using them as props.
Our industry is at a crossroads and while many obstacles and barriers have been overcome for minorities in advertising, there are still significant challenges towards achieving diversity and inclusion among all groups. Let’s work together to find an open road where everyone in the industry can collaborate, create and come together to unify the voice of advertising.


2 thoughts on “Advertising & Disability at a Crossroads: Stop typecasting and using us as props.

  1. J Bass says:

    Ya, I just saw this on TV and was thoroughly confused. Since I do not watch movies and TV shows I had no idea who the actor was (or even if it was someone acting disabled) and could not figure out if he was a bad guy, a villain or what the point was; I just found it a little disturbing so I needed to look it up. I think you are right- they used his disability to create some type of typical eveil. But it was a disabled person- which I just felt was wrong. He should have been the one driving the car!

  2. Mr. Gary Bartholf says:

    I totally agree with the above when I first saw this I was very disturbed and thought this was making fun at people with a disability or persons with M S.

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