Last Tuesday’s class reminded me of how much I love watching movies, which in turn reminded me of the several movies I have seen that depict people living with disabilities. Movies such as The Other Sister, Gattaca, I Am Sam, Temple Grandin, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Call Me Crazy: A Five Film, Radio, Sling Blade, The Theory of Everything, and the list goes on.
Many view Hollywood’s images of people with disability as both positive and negative. Hollywood films dedication of people with disability creates negative connotations for some viewers because of its ability to evoke the viewer’s pity for the disabled character, by framing these characters as a problem of social, physical and emotional confinement. These films rarely explore the disability itself. The disability only figures into the plot or the character development as a device that allows the narrative to unfold. Hollywood movies draw on existing stereotypes to create representations of the disabled. Though some believe that these representations have improved over time, the inducement of the viewer’s pity continues to play a key role in how disabled characters are represented in cinema, even in cases where the disabled character is represented in a positive light.
On the other hand, others view Hollywood’s depiction of people with disability as positive, believing that movies have the ability to present characters living with disabilities as independent and resourceful. The only things hindering them are the misunderstandings, prejudices, and ignorance of those around them. Some Hollywood films have advocated disability rights, asserting that there is no pity in disability, only society’s myths, fears, and stereotypes that make being disabled difficult. More characters with disabilities such as schizophrenia, autism, physical, and sensory disabilities have increased in cinema. Some of these films have respectful, accurate portrayals of disabilities while others fall back on stereotypes and clichés. Many can see this increase in representation as a positive one because it helps diversify the cast. I firmly believe that the next generation of youth coming up with disabilities need positive role models to look up to in media. Nevertheless, cinema needs to consider how these images affect the way society views and treats people with disabilities. Are representations in film positive or negative? Finally, how harmful are misleading images of disabled people to the collective awareness of us as individuals, a community, and truth?