One upcoming episode, titled “Sabotage,” will feature a lead guest character who is a quadriplegic. Dr. Eleanor Perry comes on board the Destiny via the Ancient long-range communications device, which allows her to trade bodies with someone on board the ship. For the duration of her stay, she is able to walk for the first time in her adult life.
Today series creators Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper posted at GateWorld Forum in response to outcry about the character’s description, which surfaced this week at sites like SpoilerTV. Here is how the original casting breakdown read:
ELEANOR PERRY, (35-40) and quite attractive. A brilliant scientist who happens to be a quadriplegic. Affected since childhood, her disability has rendered her body physically useless. However, after being brought on board the Destiny as the only person who may be able to save the ship and her crew from certain annihilation, she is given temporary powers that enable her to walk again and to finally experience intimacy. Strong guest lead. NAMES PREFERRED. ACTRESS MUST BE PHYSICALLY THIN. (THINK CALISTA FLOCKHART).
Critics challenged what appears to be an insensitive description of a disabled person, such as calling her body “physically useless” and suggesting that she would have been unable to experience true intimacy throughout her life without the use of her arms and legs.
There are also unconfirmed rumors that Perry will have a sexual encounter with a male crew member in the course of the story.
In response to the criticisms, Wright and Cooper said (via GateWorld Forum):
Recently, a casting breakdown was released to agents for a upcoming character in our television show, Stargate Universe. The character, Doctor Eleanor Perry, is a brilliant scientist at the top of her field, who also happens to be a quadriplegic. As part of a science fiction conceit that is core to our series, Perry’s consciousness is temporarily exchanged with one our series main characters, Camile Wray, who is a lesbian.
In the course of the story, Perry has the experience of being able bodied for the first time since she was a child. At the same time, Wray, temporarily encumbered by Perry’s physical disability, experiences the unconditional love of her life partner.
The language of the breakdown was insensitive and inaccurate, and we sincerely apologize to those who may have been offended. The audition pages that have been under scrutiny were from an early draft and released out of context. It is our desire and intention to portray both characters with dignity and respect, while remaining mindful of the ethical issues we’re raising.
As the producers explain, the ethical matters pursued in this episode of Stargate Universe go even deeper than disability and inhabiting someone else’s body — two huge topics for exploration in science fiction (calling to mind stories like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s “Melora”). Dr. Perry trades places with Camille Wray (played by Ming-Na), a lesbian woman who is in a long-term relationship back on Earth (story). Perry explores the possibility (and acceptability) of not only a sexual relationship inside Wray’s body on board the ship, but also a heterosexual relationship.
Meanwhile, Wray wakes up back on Earth in the other woman’s quadriplegic body and has her own personal issues to face.
The producers’ comments acknowledge and apologize for the failings of the breakdown, which is used for casting purposes and not intended for public consumption. But the question remains: How will “Sabotage” deal with these sensitive issues of disability, sexuality, and respect for another person’s body when it airs?
Read more on the criticisms and an SGU spokesperson’s response at AfterEllen.com.
Stargate Universe premiers Friday, October 2 at 9 p.m. on Syfy in the U.S. “Sabotage” is written by a still unnamed freelance writer and directed by Peter DeLuise, and will air in 2010.