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The past two years of blockbuster hits featuring underrepresented communities, such as Black Panther and Crazy Rich Asians, have reaffirmed that representation in media matters. However, it’s not enough to just check a box by having actors that look like the communities they’re portraying.
Any well-intentioned piece of media can have a negative impact on an entire group of people without writers, actors, plot lines, and a production crew that actually understand the narrative they’re portraying. Which is why the hashtag #DisabledDisabilityMovies shouldn’t just be a theoretical script-flipping of “inspirational” films portraying people with disabilities, but a real call to action for the people involved in the creation of these films.
On Wednesday, Ruti Regan, a feminist rabbi and disabled disability advocate, began tweeting with the hashtag #DisabledDisabilityMovies, sharing the ways in which a movie should portray disabled people, as opposed to how movies actually do. (Regan didn’t immediately respond to the Daily Dot’s request for comment.) For examples, Regan wrote, instead of a disabled person being pressured into focusing their life’s work on walking in an effort to show that they “never give up,” the person instead demands a wheelchair.
And instead of a buddy comedy featuring a person with disabilities being helped by another to “overcome disability through the power of love,” the director would rightly know that this is no comedy, but a horror movie instead, Regan wrote.
And the ghosts of people who died in institutions? No, they aren’t playing into the “haunted asylum” trope. They’re helping the other people currently institutionalized to “resist gaslighting and demand justice.”
Regan’s narratives, and those of others who have shared under the hashtag, show an alternative reality in which people with disabilities sculpt these narratives for film and TV, instead of serving as “inspirational” fodder for people to watch and feel good about themselves for watching.
Through the hashtag, disabled people are asserting that many of these “overcoming disability,” “horror asylum,” “death over disability,” “disability awareness” narratives are actually harmful, and reinforce negative, inaccurate stereotypes about them and the kinds of “obstacles” they face. Instead, the hashtag squashes ableist movies about people with disabilities and shows that movies about people in the community should be like any other adventure, horror, sci-fi, rom-com film—just with an accurate portrayal of, without an exploitive fixation upon, the way the person moves through the world.
#DisabledDisabilityMovies a movie about whatever other thing (being on a spaceship! Fighting evil wizards! Solving a murder!) where one or more main characters need and have caregivers and this is just a thing that's there.— Imagining I (@imaginingi) October 17, 2018
Teen romcom about nerdy autistic protagonists who find love after a "reverse" make over montage, where they learn to stop masking and be themselves#DisabledDisabilityMovies— Rosella Altman 🐱🥄📖🦓 (@zelliej1) October 18, 2018
A cranky but brilliant doctor who limps uses her experience to establish empathetic rapport with patients with mysterious ailments. And a little sex. (But not the boundary-violating kind between docs and patients.) #DisabledDisabilityMovies— Tales From the Crip (@IngridTischer) October 18, 2018
Designers create robots to teach disabled kids social skills. Robots develop sentience and listen to the kids. The combined robot/disabled-kid uprising issues in a new era of compassion and understanding. #DisabledDisabilityMovies— theories of minds (@theoriesofminds) October 18, 2018
A teenager fights against their school, guidance counselor, and teachers to get accommodations.#DisabledDisabilityMovies— Elizabeth M (@hypo_awareness) October 18, 2018
A person with Lupus discovers a magical portal in their backyard and goes on an adventure! Their Lupus does not exist or heal because they are part fae or due to exposure to the portal. The limits they deal with are accepted by their new friends. #DisabledDisabilityMovies— Joienby (@morebookstofind) October 18, 2018
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Ultimately, these ideas, too, are critiques for the ways in which society is generally ableist and negatively treats disabled people. These movie pitches aren’t just suggestions for how the entertainment industry should change its treatment of people, but suggestions for how people without disabilities need to shift and humanize people with disabilities as a whole.
Samantha Grasso is a former IRL staff writer for the Daily Dot with a reporting emphasis on immigration. Her work has appeared on Los Angeles Magazine, Death And Taxes, Revelist, Texts From Last Night, Austin Monthly, and she has previously contributed to Texas Monthly.