I have what you might call an invisible disability. I hurt all the time. All the fucking time. The last time I wasn’t in agony was 2003. Some days getting out of bed is beyond me, but every day is a challenge. I work through pain, and smile through pain, and watch movies through an enormous amount of pain. But I don’t use a wheelchair. I park in the disabled-accessible spot, and get out of my little red convertible in high heels and lip gloss and I don’t fit the picture of what disabled should apparently look like. If looks could kill, the dirty looks that come my way would be enough to disable me if I wasn’t already. And I’m not alone:
This nasty note may have come from a good place, but it was left on the van parked rightfully in a disabled spot. The van’s driver had her daughter with her, who suffers from hypophosphatasia, a rare genetic condition that causes bones to break – every step she takes could potentially result in a fracture.
This one was left by another anonymous coward on the vehicle of a young woman with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, which affects every organ in her body, causing her blood pressure to drop suddenly or her heart rate to accelerate, leaving her weak, or faint. I’m sure she’d gladly trade you her parking space for your health.
This awesome note-writer is actually right, for once. The BMW did belong to a young male professional – who happens to be paraplegic. It’s crazy but true: we don’t all drive vans. Sometimes us disabled folks drive cars that look surprisingly like yours! Unfortunately, they do not magically cure us of our illnesses, just like they seem not to cure your stupidity.
Anyway, I could go on and on, but you get the point. As if a lifetime of disability isn’t enough, you also get the fun judgement! And to get to my point (and I do have one): you also get zero representation at the movies.
Well, okay, not zero. But most times that disabilities are depicted in the movies, it goes like this: he was a nice normal guy, ironically loved using his legs until that tragic accident where he no longer could, now he’s super mad and who can blame him, but then he overcomes it, wow, what nobility. As good as both The Butterfly and the Diving Bell and The Intouchables are, the point of the movie is the disability. I’m looking for movies where the disability is incidental, and those are much harder to come by.
Notting Hill: One of Hugh Grant’s friends just happens to be in a wheel chair. She’s not a tragic character, she’s just one of the guys, none of whom are afraid to poke fun at her condition. The scene where they’re all rushing to reunite Hugh with Julia Roberts and she (played by Gina McKee, who is also terrific in Atonement and In The Loop) wants to sit it out because she’ll slow them down but her husband insists, and quickly packs both her and her chair into the car so she can still be one of the gang – that’s what I’m talking about.
Finding Nemo: Little Nemo has a “lucky fin”; it’s underdeveloped after an accident and it means he’s not a strong swimmer. But he’s brave and adventurous anyway, and refuses to be left behind. He can do anything his friends can do, and he’ll prove it til he’s in peril. In fact, much of this cast is a testament to accepting those who are differently abled: Nemo’s dad has anxiety, Dory has memory loss, and I believe there was even a little obsessive-compulsive cleaner fish in the tank. And yet they’re all just getting on with their lives the best way they can.
Four Weddings and a Funeral: In this one, Hugh Grant has a brother who is deaf. Grant had to learn sign language for his scenes with David Bower, who is also deaf in real life. Again, nothing is made of his disability, it’s just a fact. Brothers can be deaf. This brother in particular was deaf, and also a lady killer, and also quite sensitive to his brother’s true feelings.
Saved!: Macauley Culkin plays a paralyzed high school student. He’s a normal guy who just happens to use a wheel chair – he’s sarcastic, horny, and tired of his goody-two-shoes sister. He’s also learning to enjoy a measure of independence.
Nothing against My Left Foot, but it is nice, and I think, important to show people with disabilities who aren’t particularly courageous or noble, but who are simply living among us, touching butts and stealing the last brownie just like any other jerk. This list is woefully short – certainly I’ve missed many. If your memory is better than mine (and believe me, it is), let me know in the comments!