Within Hollywood now, there's still a huge dearth of material that not only features disability as a normal, everyday topic, (which of course it is), but does so in a thoughtful, comical manner. Most depictions of disability in cinema continue to fall back on insidious stereotypes of disability as tragedy (The Elephant Man, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane), or someone "overcoming" their impairment to become some supercrip hero (Forrest Gump, My Left Foot). Unlike those movies, Sleepwalk With Me illustrates how Mike's disability ends up being an asset, not a liability. There is genuine humor with disability, and this particular film is an honest, earnest and entertaining reflection of that truth.
Ahem. I mean "Hello, distinguished readers of the Bitch community. Pleased to make your acquaintance. How do you do?" My name is Caitlin and this is my new blogging series, "Tales From The Crip." I hope you enjoy it and that we can be friends. Or at the very least, be frenemies who engage in some stimulating conversations.
After what Rousso describes as a childhood full of ups and downs and other children asking why she was "crippled," Rousso grew up to pursue higher education despite what some saw as barriers—her disability and her gender. She earned a degree from Brandeis University in economics in 1968, which landed her a job in Washington D.C. in the Office of Economic Opportunity and also exposed her to the women's rights movement. It was while living in D.C. that Rousso became involved in feminist activism. Rousso said in an interview that when she started working in feminist issues, she realized that "this self-loathing about my body and about my womanhood is not just a disability issue, it is a women's issue." Her first taste of activism fueled her to go on to get two masters degrees, one in education from Boston University and the second in social work from New York University. She had hoped to study psychotherapy but was rejected from a program because of her disability. Instead of being discouraged, this action further inspired her life work at the intersection of disability and women's rights.
There has been disagreement among researchers and diagnosticians about whether the two diagnostic labels really represent distinct conditions since Asperger syndrome first became its own recognized and "official" diagnostic category. There are multiple sets of diagnostic criteria for Asperger syndrome, but recently the criteria put forth in the APA's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual have been thrust into the spotlight. A proposed change to the upcoming DSM V would consolidate all of the diagnoses on the autism spectrum under a single diagnostic label, "autism spectrum disorder." In popular discourse and mainstream media outlets, the other conditions on the spectrum—childhood disintegrative disorder and PDD-NOS [pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified]—are completely erased. The focus is solely on "classic" autism and Asperger syndrome, and the proposed consolidation of the two labels has given rise to fierce controversy and even panic.
In honor of the recent wave of support for transgender inclusion in the Girl Scouts, let's delve into the history of Girl Scouts founder Juliette Gordon Low. You might know her for leading a life of activism and creating opportunities for women, but did you know she spent the majority of her life with severely impaired hearing? Although trans activism like the recent support for the GSUSA cookie drive most likely was not on Gordon Low's radar, she fought for the inclusion of girls of all abilities in the Girl Scouts of USA.
Jane Campion's biopic An Angel At My Table feels far more epic in its devotion to writer Janet Frame's small moments than courtroom scenes that turn history into playacting and battle sequences that turn soldiers into figurines. These are the films women should be making. They are often the films I want to see, particularly if they fail to receive Academy recognition.
I'm about to wax rhapsodic about a cheesy, transparently manipulative martial arts film. But seriously: Prachya Pinkaew's 2008 movie Chocolate is the best film I've ever seen that features an autistic protagonist. And it's the only piece of media I've personally encountered that features a nonverbal protagonist.
If Hollywood gravitates toward a "sexy" disability for male characters, it would have to be blindness. I was recently mulling over how the big screen portrays men of color and with disabilities and realized that blind male characters in movies often aren't dehumanized or marginalized. They're downright hot.
As a mentally ill musical theatre fan, depictions of characters who share that trait with me typically fall into one of two categories: they a) don't exist or they b) make me rage. next to normal comes closer than most shows to getting it right, in a lot of ways. But where it fails, it fails hard.