Lupita Nyong’o caught heat this week for her use of a disability in the interpretation of her alter ego character in the Jordan Peele blockbuster hit movie Us, but has apologized to the group of people that found it offensive.
Nyong’o’s performance of “Adelaide” and her evil doppelgänger “Red,” has become highly noted among moviegoers and critics, and has helped to propel the movie into last weekend’s highest grossing film. The character makes use of a robotic disposition and a unique voice, which she Nyong’o said was a take on a condition called spasmodic dysphonia.
But those who actually suffer from the disorder and those who advocate for those with the disability have come forward to criticize the actress for making the condition seem creepy.
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility, which is a national nonprofit organization that works “to fight stigmas and advance opportunities for people with disabilities,” criticized Nyong’o for using the spasmodic dysphonia condition to define a part of her character.
“Connecting disabilities to characters who are evil further marginalizes people with disabilities who also have significant abilities and want to contribute to their communities just like anyone else,” Mizrahi said.
The National Spasmodic Dysphonia Association also issued a statement denouncing Nyong’o’s choice.
“One of the toughest parts of having a disability is that people make assumptions based on the way you walk, talk or act, sometimes with little understanding of what is causing it,” the organization said. “We understand that hearing the unique sound caused by symptoms of spasmodic dysphonia was the spark of inspiration for the voice of this 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.”
According to NDSA executive director Kim Kuman: “Spasmodic dysphonia is not a creepy voice; it’s not a scary voice,” Kuman added. “It’s a disability that people are living with and shouldn’t be judged upon.”
In explaining her preparation for the character, Nyong’o has said she worked with and ear, nose and throat doctor, a vocal therapist and her dialect coach. She appeared on ABC’s The View to talk about it.
“In my processes as an actor, one of the things I look to do is to find ways into the most human and most real parts of the camera and to steer clear of a judgment of them as good or evil, pleasant or creepy,” she said.
She said when she heard Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental lawyer and activist, and son of the late Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who lives with the disorder she said it was the catalyst for her expression of the character.
But she says she has met with people who have the disorder, and has an understanding of people who live with it day-to-day like Kennedy and apologized, saying she didn’t mean to demonize the disorder.
“I crafted Red with love and care,” she continued. “So as much as it is in a genre specific world, I really wanted to ground her in something that felt real. And so for all that, I say sorry to anyone that I may have offended.”