We here at the Paul K. Longmore Institute are dedicated to reshaping the way that people view disability. Since mainstream media is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to perpetuating outdated ideas and stereotypes, we're happy to cohost Superfest International Disability Film Festival each fall with Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco.
Thanks to the great entries we get every year, we know other, better ideas about disability and disabled people are out there. We know that we don't have to settle for the typical fare of nondisabled actors getting Oscars for playing disabled people in ways that promote pity and helplessness. We know that disability isn't just about Kleenex boxes and suicide.
In fact, thanks to Superfest we know that intriguing, diverse, compelling, hilarious, complex, and truly original stories are out there. Unlike the typical mainstream fare, these stories offer people with disabilities a chance to see themselves on screen as products of the kaleidoscopic worlds everyone lives in. They allow disabled and nondisabled people alike to think, to explore, to contribute, and simply to be.
As the longest-running disability film festival in the world, Superfest sets a high bar. This year's 30th anniversary will be no exception.
But sometimes we have to admit that it can be just as important to call out movies that suck, especially mainstream movies that seem to have every financial, publicity, and starpower advantage.
This is why in 2016 we're offering a nod to the award we launched three years ago by bestowing one *special* film with the illustrious "Dissie Award.” This prestigious honor will be presented to a film that has so completely missed the mark about disability that we want to hold it up as a shining example of what NOT to do. (Back in 2013, we hosted an entire event around this premise, called “Superfest presents: The Dissies" modeled after the acclaimed Razzies that condemn bad films. After showing a short clip from each nominee, our packed house voted on the spot for the worst of the worst. With award categories such as “The Worst Disabled Villain,” “The Worst Portrayal of a Disability by a Nondisabled Actor Who Didn’t Do Their Research,” and “Crips Gone Wild!” we awarded seven Dissies [to see the nominees and Dissie winners, click here]. And we’re proud to say that this was not, as some might think, a depressing night, but instead one that was deeply empowering and just plain fun as people hissed and booed surrounded by kindred spirits, sometimes for the first time in their lives.) Yomi Wrong giving a poignant speech about representations with a Dissie in hand (a Timmy bobblehead from South Park, sprayed gold).
The past three years have brought enough new treasures that we felt it appropriate to dust off our *special* statuette. By voting for this year's Dissie winner, you'll be helping to take the sting out of one more mainstream film that we believe has caused real harm.
Casting your vote below sends the message that we need better options for representing people with disabilities in film. Below are nominees we have selected from recent years that represent the latest examples of the worst of the worst. Included with each are a brief synopsis and a description of the movie poster designed to sell these films to the public.
Don't Breathe (2016, directed by Fede Alvarez, Ghost House Pictures): In this horror film, three young thieves get more than they bargained for when they break into the home of a blind veteran. Refreshing representation? Don't hold your breath. With a blind veteran as the villain, it's clear the filmmakers are relying on old tropes rather than real scares in this horror movie.
Movie poster description: A young woman is featured in the foreground of an all black poster. She is bathed in orange light and her eyes express pure fear. Two mysterious hands are reaching out of the darkness, covering her mouth.
Gregory Go Boom (2013, directed by Janicza Bravo, CYRK Production): Billed as a dark comedy, Gregory, a paraplegic man, tries dating for the first time and is disappointed to discover life isn't quite what he expected and goes to extreme measures to escape his circumstances. The funniest thing about this "dark comedy" is that Sundance thought a movie about a paraplegic man lighting himself on fire was worthy of critical acclaim.
Movie poster description: A giant heart is obscured by the tips of triangles in a desert scene. The heart has one eye that is shedding a single tear with stars and stripes adorning the opposite side. There are black clouds emerging from the heart and drifting off into the sky.
Me Before You (2016, directed by Thea Sharrock, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)): Despite meeting the love of his life after becoming quadriplegic, a handsome, rich man of privilege decides that, with the full support of everyone around him, suicide is his only option. It's no surprise this movie spurred nation-wide protests #MeBeforeAbleism Movie poster description: A well-dressed couple stare into each other's eyes with adoration in a close embrace. The couple is seated and reclined in a chair, which upon closer inspection, is a partially revealed wheelchair.
Other: Any other garbage we forgot to take out with the trash? Submit your recommendations for poor representations of disability in film below. Feel free to vent with your submission; we want your voices heard and we're ready to hiss with you. CAST YOUR VOTE NOW [polldaddy poll="9468566"] And to watch examples worth applauding, come to #Superfest2016 October 22nd and 23nd! (Tickets go on sale in August on the Superfest website)