Will You Still Love Pete, tomorrow….

Rebecca Cokley

I get it. You love Tyrion Lannister. He’s amazing. He’s complex. He’s just like you. Only he’s not. Because you’re average height and he’s not. Sitting on the Amtrak at 5:00am I found myself wondering what the future holds for Peter Dinklage.You meme him. You quote him. You buy swag with him on it. You even dress up as him for Halloween (I’ve seen at least two of you). But now that Winter has come for the series, I have to wonder will his career be more than a blip. Two years from now will you still be chanting “We want the Half-Man.”

Herve Villechez, David Rappaport, Verne Troyer

You loved them while they were part of a series, a franchise. Fast with a quip or a assist to the lead actor. And yes Tyrion is a different type of character. He had agency. He moved the plot, literally and figuratively. He formed alliances, and broke them. As a character he evolved through the series. And as an actor, Dinklage to me seems much more like Rappaport in the roles he takes and the seriousness with which he chooses than the other two. But I have to acknowledge that Herve and Verne didn’t get the luxury of a myriad of choices landing in their lap following Tatoo or Mini-Me. But all three are notable for struggling to break from the roles that the non-LP world decided defined them, and ultimately they suffered and died for it. I don’t want a similar path for Dinklage.

And while I love Tyrion, I secretly fear that this could be it. What does it mean for my community if we don’t see a plethora of meaty roles that defy expectations for actors with dwarfism going forward. Tyrion is ours. We let you borrow him, but he comes home to us. We move through the world consistently underestimated, mocked through the lens of a camera phone, parrying snarky remarks from both strangers and those closest to us. Wondering if we are ever truly accepted, and at what cost. And in all that intimacy we share with our fictional unicorn, many of us wonder will Dinklage’s career be more than four Emmys collecting dust. Are we stuck here? And what does that mean?

Where does he go from here? Will you, the nondisabled public, support him in roles where he is the romantic lead? The deceitful mob boss at the end of a conspiracy driven plot leaving a trail of bodies in his wake? The soccer dad who in the midst of a mid-life crisis becomes a stripper and buys a Miata? Because I’m not sure. I want to have faith in you, but I don’t know if you’re able to make the leap.

Will you go to see films, and drive box office numbers, on Dinklage’s name recognition alone? Because let’s be honest, The Boss, did not do so well, nor did I Think We’re Alone Now. And his film career pre-Game of Thrones was much more eclectic with films like The Station Agent and the original Death at a Funeral.

Will you give Peter Dinklage the same freedom that you’ve given other actors like Johnny Depp (yes I get it, he’s canceled but his career is a good example), Mahershala Ali, Toni Colette, to experiment, to pick complex characters who may not be the darling of the silver screen?

And it’s a theme that disabled people face daily. You love us, you find us inspiring, you respect us, insofar as we play a predetermined role. But the minute we step out of line, we have an opinion that differs from the mainstream, something snaps, something no longer computes. Then we become THAT disabled person (and don’t you DARE say that people with dwarfism aren’t disabled). That person who was cool for a bit, until we showed a side of our personality that defied your preconceived notions and then we’re ostracized. Will you think about Tyrion the next time the disability community saves your healthcare, or when you read about another disabled person being killed by a family member for being a burden? Will you call your member of Congress when the House inevitably votes again to kill the Americans with Disabilities Act, or will it not even cross your mind that you once cared a lot about a character who was disabled.

I want to believe you will. I want to believe that six months from now, once he’s done going back to this theater roots playing Cyrano the offers will be lining up. And you, his loving public, will follow his career. I want to believe that the youngest Lannister brother awoke an empathy center in your abled hearts and it’s more than just a blip. But for now I’m going to sit back and wait. And if that means in 5–7 years busting out GOT on “on-demand” for my son to introduce him to the character his stuffed lion is named after, because things haven’t changed, than so be it. I want more, and I hope you, the nondisabled public, defy expectations, and it ends up that we have decades of Dinklage and other dwarf actors (because this isn’t “Highlander,” and the averages are overdue in paying some love to Meredith Eaton) breaking ceilings and stretching boundaries.

Rebecca Cokley

Written by

Rebecca Cokley is a lifelong disability rights activist, thought leader, and Director of the Disability Justice Initiative at the Center for American Progress

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