The world over, today is the day to celebrate disabled people. From Stephen Hawking to Winston Churchill, disabled people have made great contributions to society, but many disabled people are prevented from doing so. The solution is to raise disabled people’s issues into everyone’s minds.
Film is a great way of doing this, and 2016 has been an excellent year for disability cinema. So stream a movie or two online and invite your able bodied friends over, or head to the multiplex. It’s time for some entertaining awareness raising.
A man with a serious heart condition struggles against the UK’s Kafkaesque welfare state. Despite the subject matter’s lack of car chases or explosions, this thought provoking drama is gripping from start to finish with laughter as well as tears. No wonder it won the 2016 Palm d’Or. Importantly, the film caused political ripples in its home country, where the Government is starting to backtrack on its punishing programme of cuts to disability benefits. In many European countries, the welfare state is designed to look after people who need support. Yet in Britain, right wing politicians have encouraged a view of disabled people as wilfully unemployed in order to justify cuts, while not chasing companies or rich individuals for the much bigger problem of tax evasion and avoidance. This film underscores the importance of respecting disabled people’s fundamental dignity
Originally released in France in 2011, this film has been touring the UK ahead of its English speaking remake. It shows the relationship between a wealthy paralysed man and his ex-convict care worker. The interactions between this odd-couple are very funny, but the audience feels as if it can laugh with the disabled main character rather than at him. This treatment emphasises a main theme in the story – that disabled people are not to be pitied. Their lives are interesting, and capable of great richness, which benefits the able-bodied people around them. What’s more, it is a true story.
3. Notes on Blindness
This film portrays professor coming to terms with going blind. Also based on real events, the dramatised documentary follows the hours of audio recordings which the central protagonist makes to understand his new, darker world. In particular, it focuses on the his changing relationship to his wife and child. As a narrative where a non-disabled person becomes disabled, this is a great tool to educate able-bodied people about the experience of disabled people in a world designed for those of us with vision.
4. My Feral Heart
Reviews of this film often make mention of the lead actor’s genuinely stunning performance. Steven Brandon, a man with Down’s Syndrome, plays Luke, a character who has to deal with the death of his mother. The interplay between Luke, his carer and a misfit young aristocrat is the setting for this moving character study. It also is an example of the talent disabled people can show when given the chance.
What to Do Next
There was a time when disabled people were shut away in institutions. Because no-one came into contact with them, stereotypes and myths about disability abounded unchallenged, but film is one way of making disability visible, and establishing connection. If you decide to see these movies at home after downloading them, make a point of buying your popcorn in person at a shop or going to a pub after the showing. Make yourself visible in public and enjoy your rights on the day designed to celebrate them.