A new Netflix comedy starring RuPaul Charles titled “AJ and the Queen” features a blind character with diabetes, but, like most shows in Hollywood, is portrayed by an actor without a disability.
“AJ and the Queen” follows drag queen Robert/Ruby Red (Charles) on a cross country trip after a business opportunity gone bad. Unbeknownst to the queen, AJ (Izzie G.), “a tough-talking 10-year-old stowaway,” makes the trip too. What ensues is a series of Ruby Red performances, a fabulous rainbow of LGBTQ culture, especially among people of color, and a message about the value of found family and loving yourself.
— Netflix ANZ (@NetflixANZ) January 10, 2020
Among the characters that inhabit the world of “AJ and the Queen” is Louis, Robert’s roommate, best friend and fellow drag queen. Louis/Cocoa Butter, played by actor Michael-Leon Wooley, is blind due to a diabetic stroke he experienced in his 20s. According to a description of the character, Louis can “put on his makeup flawlessly, pour Champagne perfectly and refuses to put limits on himself because of his disability.”
Here’s a sneak peek from AJ& THE QUEEN. my character Louis, a blind diabetic drag queen as his other self. COCO BUTTER!!! #AJandtheQueen #rupaulsdragrace #rupaul #drag #Netflix pic.twitter.com/9Lm0bFjwcl
— Michael-Leon Wooley (@mlwooley) December 4, 2019
Louis’ character serves up plenty of blind humor in the series, however, Wooley is not blind and there is no evidence any of the show’s writers are either. Disability representation matters, but about 95% of the time, according to the Ruderman Family Foundation, people with disabilities are not hired to represent themselves. This lack of authentic representation in front of and behind the camera often means audiences internalize stereotypes about disability as opposed to lived reality.
“Disability is not a costume that people can take off. It’s our identity,” “NCIS: New Orleans” writer Katherine Beattie told The Mighty. “Try as non-disabled actors might, they’re never going to give the true performance that a disabled actor would, because they just don’t have that lived experience. So to portray our experience, the full extent of it, I really think you need people who have lived it.”
“AJ and the Queen” was created by Charles and Michael Patrick King, best known for his work on “Sex and the City.” In addition to Louis, the show features Lady Danger (Tia Carrere), a “f*cked-up sexy” “comic villain” who wears an eye patch, another damaging trope that vilifies people with disabilities.
“I’m constantly looking for myself in the movies I watch, for characters I can relate to, and I rarely find them,” wrote Mighty contributor Allison Alexander, adding:
The stereotypes I do find suggest that people with chronic illnesses and disabilities aren’t OK the way we are, that we are ugly and that we need ‘fixing’ in order to be part of society. … And if villains must have disabilities, I’d like to see more balance in representation, where non-villainous characters with disabilities are also present — characters who have a significant role in the story and aren’t just there to inspire the hero or play the victim.
All 10 episodes of “AJ and the Queen” are now available for streaming on Netflix and you can watch the full trailer below: