TV + Movies

Movies About Disability That You Should Consider Watching

These stories have told through a lens of curiosity about persons with disabilities, instead of stereotyping them, and that’s why we think they are worth a watch.

Spoilers ahead. TW: Mentions of ableist abuse

Some of these movies are popular, while others, not so much. Most of them show disabled young folx as people with aspirations, dreams, and agency just like anybody else. These stories have told through a lens of curiosity about persons with disabilities, instead of stereotyping them, and that’s why we think they are worth a watch.

Loop

Loop is an 8-minute short film produced by Pixar Animation Studios and released in 2020. The film focuses on 2 protagonists, Renee and Marcus, who are kids attending a canoe camp. The camp counselor pairs them together for a trip in the canoe and although reluctant, Marcus sets off with Renee across the lake. Renee is autistic and non-verbal and so everyone sees her as this weird kid who doesn’t talk.

I liked this film because although Marcus has no idea about how to interact with Renee and is used to conventional patterns of socialising like talking and goofing around the lake on the canoe and being loud, he is willing to learn from Renee on how to communicate with her. He quickly learns that intense rocking on the canoe makes her uncomfortable. Instead, he rows the canoe back and forth near a patch of reed because Renee enjoyed the sensation of the reeds. He also learns that she likes to play a certain tune on her phone while she’s happily stimming to show that she’s enjoying herself. When Renee is overwhelmed by the sounds of the motorboat and has a meltdown, Marcus grabs a piece of reed and sets it where she can reach it and gives her space and privacy so she can feel better.

Marcus and Renee become friends and Marcus tries to actively learn from her about how to be her friend instead of telling her what she should be doing. There is an equal measure of give-and-take in their friendship instead of Marcus making Renee feel bad and forcing her into masking her true self. In my opinion, this short film should’ve been nominated for the Golden Globes instead. The short film is available on Disney+ (and torrents are always available!).

Ian

Ian is another 9-minute long short film produced by MundoLoco (Animation Studio in Latin America) based on the story of a real boy named Ian who was born with cerebral palsy. It started with Ian’s mother trying to educate her son’s bullies on the playground, urging them to let him play as well. She goes on to found Fundación Ian (Foundation Ian) to help educate people about disabilities on a larger scale.

Artistically, Ian is a stop motion and CGI film and is filled with bright and happy colours. Ian is in a wheelchair and is seen peeking into a park from the other side of the fence. He dreams of joining the other kids in the park with his toys and playing with them on the slide and the awnings, but every day, his fantasy ends with the kids making fun of him or giving him weird stares because he is in a wheelchair. However, towards the end, the children learn to accept Ian and invite him to the playground as well.

You can watch the film here.

Taare Zameen Par

TW- abuse, bullying, trauma

Taare Zameen Par is a 2007 movie directed by Aamir Khan. It centres around a boy named Ishaan, who is dyslexic and is constantly criticized and bullied because of his poor academic performance and writing skills. His peers call him names, his teachers think that he won’t have a future, and his parents think that he’s just being lazy and pretending to not understand things in school. And he’s only about 9-10 years old.

This movie is pretty hard to watch and can be triggering because of the insulting language that is used and the systemic disregard towards children who are even just a little different from ableist expectations. There is a heavy emphasis on schooling and grades and ranks and I think this movie shows how institutions deliberately create hierarchies and differences among children in the name of competition and grades even though they might be harming the children.

Ishaan is then sent to a boarding school where he meets Ram Shankar Nikumbh (played by Amir Khan), who is also dyslexic and helps Ishaan to improve his reading and writing. The thing about Ram Shankar’s character is that he appears to be a saviour for Ishaan by helping him nurture his artistic and academic talents, but the movie still takes away agency from the child himself. It shows that the adults and the parents always know what’s best, even though they are the ones who can cause harm. Not once was Ishaan asked what he wants to do or how he wants to learn or what he needs that will make him more comfortable in his role as a student. The decisions were made for him: that he needs to be sent away or that he needs to be saved by a teacher.

While the movie highlights how every child is different and special, there is also an emphasis on how some children have “special needs” (children with learning disorders or neurodivergent children), when the point is that every child has a special need and the point of education institutions is to remove the aspect of competition and grades to help each child reach their fullest potential as a kind human being capable of navigating their lives and relationships in a secure manner.

Margarita With A Straw

Margarita with a Straw is a 2015 movie starring Kalki Koechlin. It follows the story of Laila, a young college student with cerebral palsy. Being physically restricted doesn’t stop Laila from having fun with her friends, making music for her college band and enjoying creative writing.

Laila doesn’t restrict herself from living her life and having fun. She is open to trying new things and also exploring her sexuality. She has a friends-with-benefit relationship with Druv while she’s studying at DU, whom she breaks up with for Nima, a boy in her band. When Nima rejects her, her mother encourages her to go to NYU for a creative writing program (reflecting the privileges of one’s socio-economic location even when one is disabled) where she meets Khanum, a blind Pakistani girl. They meet at an anti-racist rally and have to flee the scene when the cops show up. They later get to know each other and get involved in a relationship and even move in together. Later in the movie, she sleeps with Jared, her friend and writing assistant, which causes Laila and Khanum to drift apart.

When she was studying at DU and her band won a contest, the judges admit that the only reason they won was that Laila had a special condition and if she would like to respond to that. On stage. In front of everyone. Laila gets angry and shows them the finger and leaves the room. Laila has a very supportive mother who ensures that Laila knows that she can fight against society’s toxic and ableist standards and live as she feels best for herself. What I don’t really like in this movie is that Laila and her mother never fully talk about Laila’s bisexuality. She tries coming out to her mother, but Shubhangi (the mother) gets very upset and doesn’t understand her daughter. But Laila learns that Shubhangi is sick with cancer and passes away. So although Laila has the agency to discover and experiment with her sexuality, I wish she would’ve had a proper conversation with her mother about her sexuality. But I guess, it also shows how parents could react in an unsupportive manner to their child’s queerness regardless of their disability. Maybe if Shubhangi had more time, she could come around to understanding her daughter.

A Silent Voice

TW- bullying, gaslighting, suicide

A Silent Voice is a Japanese animated movie produced by Kyoto Animation. It is a psychological coming-of-age drama film that follows the story of Nishimiya Shouko, a girl with a hearing impairment, and Ishida Shoya.

When Nishimiya changes schools as an elementary student, her classmates bully her because of her disability. They call her names and steal 8 pairs of her hearing aids. One time, Ishida accidentally rips her ear as well. Her mother is livid and transfers Nishimiya to another school. The movie intends to show a redemption arc for the characters, especially Ishida.

While I appreciate the intention, I think the execution was more elusive. Ishida and Nishimiya meet after years, and Ishida regrets that he bullied her and tries to apologise to her. They start hanging out and become friends again, but the rest of the group from elementary school still bullies her. Especially Naoka Ueno. They continue to bully her and repeatedly tell her that she is worthless. Ishida apologises to her once, and somehow expects her to forgive him and everything that happened. Ishida was bullied in elementary school too and I think it was a situation where one kid who was bullied, further bullies someone else, but Ishida never received an apology from his bullies.

When the rest of their group sees how Ishida has changed, Nishimiya is still blamed for ruining his life and their friendship, especially by Ueno. Nishimiya is manipulated and is constantly apologising for something that isn’t her fault at all and she’s constantly expected to be nice to them and forgive them. She doesn’t have a safe space where she can process what she’s feeling or how she wants to respond to the situation or if she even wants to be friends with her ex-bullies.

At one point, Nishimiya tries to kill herself because she’s made to feel so worthless and terrible, but Ishida is there to save her, injuring himself in the process. In the end, they end up becoming friends, but Nishimiya is somehow still forced into it, rather than having agency to choose for herself whether or not she wants to be friends with them.

The Way He Looks

TW- bullying, homophobia

The Way He Looks is a 2014 Portugese film directed by Daniel Ribero and is based on the short film, I Don’t Want to Go Back Alone. The protagonist, Leonardo, is a blind high school student. He has a best friend, Giovana, who accompanies him back home everyday. One day, Gabriel, a new student arrives at the school and is made benchmates with Leonardo. Soon, Gabriel, Leonardo and Giovana become a trio and Gabriels joins them to walk Leonardo home.

The movie is about the normal life of a Leo as a high school student, his desire to be independent, plans for college, wanting to explore romantic and sexual encounters, finishing assignments, attending parties and so on.

There’s another classmate Karina, who is attracted to Gabriel, but he rejects her at a party. Gabriel is paired with Leo for a project and through the course of the assignment, he realises he likes Leo and wants to date him. The bullies at school also make homophobic remarks at how close Leo and Gabriel seem, but they mostly ignore them.

There is also a misunderstanding between the 3, since Giovana thought that Leo no longer cares for her and that Gabriel has replaced her in his life, but Leo and Giovana make up when Leo confesses that he’s in love with Gabriel. Giovana encourages Gabriel to go see Leo where they confess their feelings for one another and get together. Although Fabio (one of the bullies) continues to tease Leo and Gabriel, they no longer want to hide their relationship and proudly hold hands and walk home with Giovana.

Throughout the movie, Leo is also trying to establish his independence and his boundaries, especially to his overprotective parents who do not want him to go anywhere alone and ensure that he’s always with someone. Leo also wants to go abroad for his college and live a life where he is free to do what he wants, but his parents outright disapprove of him going so far away without them.

Overall, it’s a cute movie, while also being a comfort watch. There are no major plot lines or suspense-filled climax scenes. It is about two boys learning that they love each other and wanting to be together while also trying to figure out what they want to do in the future.

Throughout these movies, we see patterns of disabled folx being bullied by their peers, overprotectiveness expressed by parents and adults in general, and the protagonist trying to be independent and live their life as they please. In most parts of the world, any person with some sort of disability is assumed to be incapable of making decisions for themselves, especially as children. They are thought of as naive and innocent people who need to be protected every minute of every day, even when this sentiment is precisely what is harming them. As a society, we deliberately and actively create differences and hierarchies among people with divergent neural and physical abilities and then proceed to shame and control them for it. This goes to show that it is society that is disabling and ableist to live in for people who are mentally or physically disabled.

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Her pronouns are she/they, but please don't ignore the 'they'. She loves books, music, art, handwritten letters and painting their nails. They believe it's important to critique what one loves, not to stop loving it, but to get a more wholesome picture of it.
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