Interview with actor and journalist Adam Pearson

Disabled actor Adam Pearson has starred in acclaimed film Under the Skin and recent documentaries such as Freak Show. He talks to Sarah Henderson about free speech, disability and hate crime.

Thank you Adam for taking the time to answer questions on disability hate crime, part of raising awareness of problems faced by disabled students in Edinburgh.

Q: Firstly, as a paper, we exonerate the ideal of ‘free speech’. However, as you yourself have experienced continual shocking comments from Youtube and other social media channels, where would you personally draw the line on ‘free speech’?

A: It is a hard line to draw! As a journalist, I’m all for free speech and think it’s important. However, when this line is crossed, and leads into discriminatory comments, free speech is taken too far. Free speech can, and is often, used as a guise to make bigoted statements.

Q: Following on from free speech, in 2015 universities across the UK introduced the concept of ‘safe space’; this has been criticised by some as stifling free speech. What is your opinion on ‘safe space’?

A: Again, generally, safe space needs to be implemented properly. It can enable yet it can also stifle free speech. It also depends upon what is defined as ‘effective’, and by who.

Q: You have been involved in larger media spheres, including  a recent role in the critically acclaimed 2013 film Under the Skin. Do you feel this was a challenge to be in the media eye to large audiences, or did it help increase your confidence in the media as a disabled actor?

A: I had worked in media prior to the film, so I had had experience of the media, cameras, and being well spoken about disability. Being in the media always presents certain challenges, as by being part of the media you are inviting people to comment, and I think this is fair game. However, if people are seeking to comment purely for bigoted reasons, this is when it becomes problematic. We weren’t expecting the film to make as big an impact as it did; I was expecting it to be in cinemas for a month tops, and didn’t realise when we were filming how unprecedented what we were doing was!

Q: Your recent documentary Freak Show discusses the ethics of using disability to make money. What did you conclude from this? Would you feel at ease making money from disability, or would you feel as though this would be giving in to misconceptions of disability?

A: I am by no means jacking in my current career to embark on joining the circus in America! However, personally, it helped the process of coming to terms with the phrase ‘freak’. Few people take the time to  investigate behind the stereotype of American ‘horror shows’ and ‘freak shows’, which perpetuates the negativity surrounding disability. I think in terms of perceptions of disability, seeing people who embraced their disability positively, rather than letting disability control them or burying their head in the sand, was encouraging. It’s about what you make of your disability and using it as positively as possible.

Q: Finally, what would you suggest to disabled students who face hate crime?

A: Firstly, know your rights. If you don’t know your own rights, who else is going to know them? The buck ultimately stops with you. Also, be persistent; continue to report incidents or harassment, and don’t shy away from doing this. Don’t be intimidated by the phrase ‘hate crime’: it is quite a grandiose phrase to use! Essentially hate crime means harassment based on a disabled person’s perceived membership to a minority group of people. Finally, continue to raise awareness, as this helps others understand your situation and problems you face better.

Image: Drew Leavy

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