I am still desperately in need of self-education on the perspectives of people with disabilities, and I probably always will be. I still suck at seeing discrimination and checking my own privilege. So thank goodness for the blogosphere. Reading The Gimp Parade and Ballastexistenz for quite a while was a real eye-opener and I recommend them both highly. My current reads that touch on disability issues (and much more) include Where’s Lulu, Womanist Musings, and of course FWD/Forward, a “group blog written by people with disabilities.”
When Grace reviewed the martial arts film Chocolate last year, I hadn’t yet seen the film and I was uneasy about it. Because of my blog reading, I was suspicious of any portrayal of people with autism as superheroes with uncanny abilities because it seemed so likely to slide into stereotypes. When I saw it later, I still couldn’t quite figure out what to make of it. I Googled quite a bit and somehow failed to discover any substantive discussion about it online, so I’ve been thinking about it off and on ever since.
A few weeks ago, commenter crixa had this to say:
I just watched this movie and loved it. I know nothing about martial arts, but I do know a lot about autism – I’m autistic myself. Actually that’s a reason I’ve watched it in first place. I rather expected something totally horrid and offensive, yet it was suprisingly all right. It wasn’t 100% correct description of autism by any stretch of imagination, but it was much better than I feared. I wish I had that movie in MY teenage years – autistic kids DO need their own superheroes.
I loved her comment specifically about how autistic kids need their own superheroes – even if the depiction isn’t completely on point. So often, I feel like the question “Is this misogynist / ableist / racist / classist / homophobic” can’t be answered yes or no. There are some examples that are clearly 90+% offensive or 90+% rocking the house. Everything else is in between, and your answer is going to depend on the kind of day you’re having, what you have to compare it to, and honestly, how desperate you are for something to enjoy and how forgiving you are of a genre you love. Then some things will resonate for some people and not others. So it was cool to hear one person’s perspective on this film and that it made someone’s day a little brighter.
I also appreciated crixa’s comment because it got me motivated to pull together this collection of links I had hanging around about the portrayal of disability in movies and other cultural products. Enjoy!
From Poking at thorns (with gloves on), Disability in Speculative Fiction: Monsters, mutants and muggles (I’m condensing 3 lines into a paragraph here for simplicity):
Fiction reflects social attitudes, and the social attitudes to disabled people tend to suck. Disabled people are presented as scary, pathetic, exotic, demanding, laughable, etc. But some tropes are popular/unique to SF. It’s not all bad: speculative fiction allows for powerful allegory, and can also make very interesting explorations/extrapolations of future attitudes/experiences of disability.
From The Drama Student Online, Don’t Play Me, Pay Me – Campaigning for disabled actors:
… an actor assuming a disability generally raises no questions, as there seems to be a feeling that this is allowable, and in some cases even preferable – Hollywood actors looking for an Oscar nomination, for example, have frequently been known to choose disabled characters for their emotive potential. It is rather telling that of the five people who have won Oscars for playing a disabled character, only one of them was actually disabled – the deaf actress Marlee Matlin.
From Multi-Genre Fan, I am tired of disability stereotypes and tropes by Jen:
The thing is I have a disability – hearing loss – so yeah when I see disabilities portrayed in stereotypical ways I AM offended. I’m bothered when I see people with disabilities used plot devices – the inspirational disabled character who inspires other character to do good things, the Super Crip who has super powers that make up for him being disable, the helpless victim who needs to be protected and/or saved because they can’t help themselves, and so on and so forth.
From the Feministing community, Media portrayal of Disability and Martial arts (a personal statement) by bbrutlag:
Yet, since I was a young kid I have yet to see a film or a TV show that shows characters with disabilities who have trained in the martial arts that are just people and not the “Super crip” archetype. Not to mention being played by actual People with disabilities (PWD) who are also martial artists instead of the able bodied pretending to be so.
From FWD/Forward, Let me tell you all about my disability super powers by Anna:
It’s even better in “Blind Date”, an episode of Angel where the “vampire with a soul” has to battle a blind assassin. She, of course, is acquitted of her crimes because no one believes a blind woman can commit crimes. But within the episode she can “see outside the normal range of human sight”, and apparently can hear people’s heartbeats.
From The Quixotic Autistic, Fröken Salander & Me: How a misanthropic computer hacker will change autism in literature and life:
It’s not just revolutionary because it has a character with autism. It has a person with autism as one of the main characters (I don’t think the word ‘protagonist’ is proper here) and often narrates using her point of view. Usually when this is attempted, it’s clumsy and ham-fisted, and filled with overly flowery prose about connecting to the outside world, or else presents the person as a narrow-minded tabula rasa with no personality, only a long series of ramblings regarding interests in very obscure subjects (I’m looking at you, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time!) Salander however, is given the full force of a well-developed personality, and while she is presented with savant-like abilities, she is shown to be tormented by them, her photographic memory in particular.
This post was originally published on Heroine Content, a feminist and anti-racist movie blog that ran from July 2006 to May 2012.