Angel Giuffria is a self-described bionic actress and cyborg.
Born with a limb difference, Giuffria was the youngest person in history to use a myoelectric arm. She began wearing the externally powered prosthetic—which allows her to control hand movements through using electrical signals generated naturally by her own muscles—at just four months. While Giuffria has acting credits in blockbusters like The Hunger Games and Ben Affleck thriller The Accountant, in the past few years she rose to prominence online through her unique take on cosplay. Giuffria incorporates her limb difference into the costumes, modifying various accessories to fit as prosthetics. She's had a trident arm as Aqua Man. A tree limb as Adventure Time's Fiona. Recently Giuffria put together an incredible combination Wonder Woman and the Avengers’ Bucky Barnes she dubbed Wonder Soldier.
While Giuffria has always loved dressing up, she didn’t begin incorporating her arm into the costumes until seeing someone portraying a limb difference on screen. “I never really integrated my arm into my costumes until I saw Planet Terror. Rose McGowan had that machine gun leg. I saw that and thought I could make that as an arm,” said Giuffria. “I made a machine gun arm and put together the full costume. I felt cool and people were so excited about it. I remember thinking how this could start changing the narrative [around how people see limb difference].”
Over the years as technology for myoelectric arms has evolved, the prosthetics come with more customization options, and new multi-articulating hands. That’s been a game changer not just for Giuffria’s costumes but also her everyday life.
“When the Be Bionic was released in my size it was really amazing,” said Giuffria. “It came in two colours, and I know that might not seem like a big deal, but the idea that you got to start choosing things felt big. Before that it only had one choice, skin tone….and now there are all these customization options. I am able to do most of mods to the arm myself and add things I think are cool. Bluetooth speakers. Programming Lights. A GPS locator because I leave my arm places and lose it all the time. That got people excited about the arm and it made me more excited to wear it. It made me feel more like myself.”
For her Star Wars costume the actress teamed with prosthetic designers, prop makers, and friend Trace Wilson to create a film-quality lightsaber modification to her bionic arm. The finished cosplay—equal parts Luke and Leia with at least a hint of Sith—earned viral status online, grabbing the attention of Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill. Recently the costume also caught the attention of Disney who invited Giuffria to be one of the first people to experience the Rise of The Resistance ride at their theme park in Florida.
The actress' online presence has lead to all sorts of opportunities, including speaking gigs talking about accessibility and representation around the world. While Giuffria is now a proud advocate around limb differences and disability, her situation wasn't always as easy. Growing up she felt insecure about her appearance and wondered if her prosthetic would limit her ability to succeed in the world of entertainment.
"For whatever reasons a lot of people view amputees or people with disabilities as less than," said Giuffria. "I was always under the impression that acting was never going to be a sustainable job. Even as a kid I had this rationale that whatever character I was they’d have to explain my limb difference…I’d hide my arm in auditions and callbacks because I thought it might hold me back. I wanted to be seen for who I am. But I am a person with a limb difference and that’s a part of me."
Even when she began to have success in the industry, the type of roles she was being offered could be easily categorized into two types: veterans and non veterans.
“For some reason in so much of film and television they only consider amputees to exist if they were in the military. Very rarely I’ve gotten asked to go out for amputee characters that haven’t served…but I’ve also gotten a lot of roles that have nothing to do with being an amputee at all. Because I booked that part, now the character has a limb difference. I don’t want those roles to be all about that, but it’s part of me so we address it in some way. But to be honest, I just want to work.”
Like any working actress Giuffria is still out there constantly hustling while looking for the next big break. She's also aware of what her success means not just to her, but to other disabled people desperate to see themselves represented in media. Her growing profile through her cosplay and other online work has meant Giuffria gets to be the representation she wishes she had growing up.
"I hope that media is moving in a way that is more representative of how the world actually looks," said Giuffria. “And I hope that can start to change how people are viewed, and perceived, and hired.”
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