Jordan Peele’s film Us may have broken a number of box office records already, but it hasn’t been a hit to everyone. A disability group has reportedly criticized the film over Lupita Nyong’o’s voice in the movie.
Us focuses on the Wilson family who is confronted by their evil doppelgängers – also known as the “tethered” – during a night at their summer home. Nyong’o’s doppelgänger, who is the only one who can speak among the tethered, has a strained and croaky voice. The National Spasmodic Dysphonia Association (NSDA) released a statement condemning the film for depicting Spasmodic dysphonia, which is a muscular disorder that distorts a person’s voice, in a villainous role.
“One of the toughest parts of having a disability is that people make assumptions based on the way you walk, talk or act, sometimes with little understanding of what is causing it,” the organization stated. “We understand that hearing the unique sound caused by symptoms of Spasmodic dysphonia was the spark of inspiration for the voice of this character. What is difficult for us, and for the thousands of people living with spasmodic dysphonia, is this association to their voice with what might be considered haunting.”
Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, the president of RespectAbility, a non-profit organization that works to fight stigmas against disabilities also spoke out. “Connecting disabilities to characters who are evil further marginalizes people with disabilities who also have significant abilities and want to contribute to their communities just like anyone else,” Mizrahi said.
The outrage isn’t necessarily unfounded. Nyong’o previously admitted to developing her voice after hearing Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who suffers from Spasmodic dysphonia, speak at a fashion event.
“I was inspired by the condition Spasmodic Dysphonia which is about from a trauma—sometimes emotional, sometimes physical—and it creates this spasming in your vocal cords,” Nyong’o told Variety at the time. “It’s inspired by the condition, it’s not an exact replica of the condition.”
While Nyong’o said she did not intend to replicate the muscular disorder exactly, the NSDA still feels like the voice paired with the terrifying nature of the story creates a false narrative. “For so long, people were told that it’s psychological — and it’s not. It’s neurological,” NSDA director Kim Kuman said. “Spasmodic dysphonia is not a creepy voice; it’s not a scary voice. It’s a disability that people are living with and shouldn’t be judged upon.”