Dakota Johnson Under Fire For Not Being Blind

By Tyler Pisapia | 4 months ago

dakota johnsonfifty shades

Dakota Johnson’s casting as the Marvel Comics character Madame Web is catching some backlash and leading to cries of ableism over the decision to cast an actress who isn’t blind in one of the superhero genre’s only roles for disabled people. The Hollywood Reporter previously revealed that Dakota Johnson would play Madame Web in a Sony spinoff centered on the character who was first introduced in the 1980s. The film will be written by Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless, who are the minds behind the upcoming standalone Sony Spiderverse movie Morbius, further lending credence to the rumors that the studio is planning to revive its Amazing Spider-Man character following Andrew Garfield’s return in Spider-Man: No Way Home.

However, the excitement surrounding a standalone Madame Web movie has been marred by critics who believe that casting Dakota Johnson in the role is a misstep by the studio and a clear missed opportunity to give a job to an actor who is actually blind. For those unfamiliar, the character that Dakota Johnson is poised to play was first introduced in a 1980 issue of The Amazing Spider-Man. Yahoo reports that the character is blind and paralyzed, with her sight problems stemming from a condition known as myasthenia gravis. She has a distinct look and spidery aesthetic thanks to a machine she uses as a life support system that was designed by her husband. It contains a series of tubes that make her perpetually look like she’s sitting in the middle of a web. The character’s powers include telepathy, clairvoyance, presence. In the comics, these powers came from her mutant abilities. However, with Marvel Studios and Disney now owning the rights to all things X-Men, some other explanation will have to be found. 

According to Cosmopolitan, it didn’t take long for critics of the 50 Shades of Grey actress’ casting to be ridiculed by those who believe this is a great example of Hollywood erasing characters who could mean a lot for the disabled, in this case, blind, community. All in favor of casting a recognizable star who may or may not do a better job in the role, but will definitely help sell more tickets. Some have even mocked the project for casting Dakota Johnson and not using an elderly actress given that Madame Web is typically depicted as a gray-haired and frail woman who looks easy to mess with, but is not. It seems older women have no place in Hollywood, per Sony.

alaqua cox hawkeye
Alaqua Cox in Hawkeye

This is especially egregious in a time when representation is such an important issue, particularly in the world-dominating genre that is Marvel superheroes. There is also precedent for a disabled person taking on a major comic book role and absolutely nailing it. Alaqua Cox made a splash in the first season of Disney+’s Hawkeye as the comic book character Echo. The actress was born deaf and is an amputee with a prosthetic leg. She was a clear breakout hit on the series (as was Hailee Steinfeld but that’s another story for another day). As a result, Cox is getting her own show on the platform titled Echo. Why then does Sony want to cast Dakota Johnson as Madame Web? 

The answer might be that there’s a precedent that swings in the other direction. Charlie Cox was previously honored by the American Foundation for the Blind during its 19th Annual Helen Keller Achievement Awards in New York City for his portrayal of Marvel’s most famous blind character, Matt Murdock in Daredevil. That said, the actor can be commended for putting in the work for his craft. According to Comicbook, the actor spent time with specialists and even wore contact lenses that blinded him in order to properly depict life for a blind man — even one that has superhuman radar senses. It’s those little touches that allowed an able-bodied actor to take on the role of a disabled person in a way that doesn’t erase their experience and actually shines a light on the daily triumphs they undergo that we all take for granted. The question now is whether Dakota Johnson will go that extra mile for her acting craft the way Charlie Cox did?