General Hospital’s award for authentic portrayal of people with disabilities shows why soaps are so important

Maysoon Zayid as lawyer Zahra Amir on General Hospital
Maysoon Zayid as lawyer Zahra Amir on General Hospital earlier this year. Pic credit: ABC

The current round of daytime drama preemptions due to the ongoing presidential impeachment hearings is a definite downer for fans.

The inconvenience caused by the interruptions are seismic for some, a nuisance for others, depending on how attached you are to your favorite soap and its characters. And, in the back of our collective minds, there is the worry that the hearings will finish what O.J. started.

Most of us don’t want the genre to go away, often for personal reasons: we’re invested in the characters, the plots are entertaining, we’ve watched for years. But there is a larger reason to root for soaps, just ask actress and comedienne Maysoon Zayid who was hired to play lawyer Zahra Amir on ABC’s General Hospital.

“It takes all kinds of people to tell a story; especially those that are rich and entertaining enough to resonate with our audience,” said General Hospital’s executive producer Frank Valentini, in direct reference to Zayid.

His comment is in response to the soap’s recent receipt of the Ruderman Family Foundation Seal of Authentic Representation in recognition of the authentic portrayal of people with disabilities.

Zayid is a disability advocate with cerebral palsy and she has brought her truth to a wide audience on GH.

“Our goal has always been to provide stories that are authentic and relatable for our viewers,” said Valentini. “Having the opportunity to welcome Maysoon Zayid on to the show was exciting for us. She is an incredible talent and was a perfect fit to guest-star as Zahra Amir.”

According to the foundation’s president, Jay Ruderman, “Given our belief that inclusion and understanding of all people is essential to a fair and flourishing society, the Foundation’s Seal of Authentic Representation is a simple, yet crucial and indispensable affirmation of those in the entertainment industry who put these values into action.”

Soap operas tell many tales, oftentimes breaking ground in the process. One Life to Live head writer Michael Malone created and told the story of Billy Douglas, the first openly gay teen on television. It was also the breakout role for Ryan Phillippe.

Without soaps, fans will lose a predictable part of their routine, a longtime habit, and in many cases a daytime friend.

But in the larger picture, without soaps we lose a vital source of storytelling willing to take a risk and put values into action. It takes all kinds of people to tell a story, and it takes all kinds of people to watch and invest in a story to keep it alive.

I want the soaps to stay on the air for a few selfish reasons, but also for the sake of everything that Maysoon Zayid and her appearance on GH represents.

General Hospital airs weekdays during the day on ABC.

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