Disability and Film

As someone who spends much of my time examining how, why, and when social understandings of disability change, film is an obvious target. Movies have an unquestionable power to expose us to people we may not yet know – to archetypes, composites, or even real people with actual stories. I have found film to be particularly useful for reaching individuals who may not have (yet) had or taken the opportunity to probe fundamental, if often unasked, questions about disability. The only catch? Finding good films.

There is a critical need for more positive and accurate portrayals of disability in film in order to break through stereotypes, assumptions, and stigma. Luckily, disability film festivals by and for members of this community are increasingly common. There might even be a disability film event in your own community!  I was thrilled to learn of the upcoming Cinema Touching Disability film festival in Austin. This event is sponsored by the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities and will be held at the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar on October 17-18.  This year’s lineup includes “Musical Chairs,” “The Little Tin Man,” and “My Gimpy Life.” Read more about this fantastic festival here and here. I will definitely be there.

ReelAbilities is another fantastic event for people interested in disability and film.  The fest originated in 2007 in New York, but has since expanded to multiple cities across the country.  According to the website, nearly 10,000 people attended ReelAbilities screenings and events this year alone!

I was pleasantly surprised to learn recently that Turner Classic Movies has dedicated this month to exploring the history of disability in classic films.  Read more about this interesting programming here.  Although I do not have cable, I will absolutely poach the list of scheduled films.  I imagine several of them would be excellent additions to an undergraduate course on medical anthropology or disability studies.

In the tradition of “The Celluloid Closet” and “Miss Representation,” the 2013 film “Cinemability” examines portrayals of disability in American cinema.  I have not seen this yet, but am crossing my fingers that I will have the opportunity to attend a screening soon.  For other resources, UC-Berkeley has this list of films relating to disability.  Do note that most of them are a bit older and the more recent films listed are from the early-2000s.  You can also find an extensive list of more recent films here.

Do let me know if you have other resources or filmographies!


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