Portrayals of Disability: Clips used in the launch

Clip Sequence UKDHM/BFI Conference Portrayal of Disability in Moving Image Media


1.The Light that Came (Dir. D.W Griffiths, 1909)
One of more than 140 short movies made by Griffiths. This is a retelling of Cinderella set in 1909. Three sisters Vivian, Daisy ( Mary Pickford) ,and Grace (Ruth Hart,) with a facial minor disfigurement. Grace is scorned by her sisters and comforted by her mother. When suitors come to call they belittle her cooking. They all go to the Ball, but no one dances with her. Then she meets a blind violinist Karl (Francis Grandon) and they become ‘sweethearts’. Grace is torn but in the end gives Karl money to have a procedure to restore his sight. As the bandages come off she hides behind her sister, petrified that when he sees her he will no longer love her. This proves not true and they embrace. 11 mins. Made at Biograph

2. The Penalty (Dir. Wallace Worsley, 1920)
Vengeful, after having his legs needlessly amputated at a young age, Blizzard (Lon Chaney) goes on to become a vicious crime lord in the San Francisco underworld. He plans to loot the city of San Francisco as well as revenge himself on the doctor, who mistakenly amputated his legs. The straw hats in this scene are part of his plan. He viciously intimidates one of the girls making the hats and puts fear into them all. 90 mins. Written by Gouverneur Morris, adapted from his novel.

3. Phantom of the Opera ( Dir. Rupert Julien, 1925)
American silent horror film adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, starring Lon Chaney, Sr. in the title role of the disfigured and ’mad’ Phantom. He haunts the Paris Opera House, causing murder and mayhem in an attempt to make Christine, the woman he loves, a star. The Phantom lives in a subterranean world beneath the Opera House, comforting himself playing the organ. When he comes up in public he wears a mask to cover his impairment. The movie remains most famous for Chaney’s ghastly, self-devised make-up, which was kept a studio secret until the film’s premiere. Erik kidnaps Christine and is chased through Paris by a vigilante crowd who, after Christine is rescued, drown him in the Seine. In this scene, Christine (Mary Philbin) is on the roof with her lover Raoul (Norman Kerry) planning her escape, witnessed from above by the Phantom (without his mask) and dressed as Red Death. He is broken hearted and vengeful.

4. City Lights (Dir. Charles Chaplin, 1930)
American silent romantic comedy film written, directed by and starring Charlie Chaplin even as talkies, were in the ascendancy. The story follows the misadventures of Chaplin’s Tramp as he falls in love with a beautiful blind flower seller girl (Virginia Cherrill) and develops a turbulent friendship with an alcoholic millionaire (Harry Myers).The Tramp resolves to support her and her grandmother against eviction, using the ambivalent friendship with the drunken millionaire from who he borrows money. Here he reads out a notice about a Viennese doctor who can cure blindness. Later, when Charlie is released from prison, Cherrill’s character can see and has a flower shop. Fearing rejection Charlie waddles off, but the girl recognises his hand and embraces him. Like “The Light that Came” and many other films, impairment can only be coped with if a cure allows a happy ending.

5. Freaks (Dir. Tod Browning, 1932)
Banned for many years, when analysed the film is sympathetic to the disabled people who work at the circus as curiosities, clowns and in the ‘freak show’ and who form a tightly knit and supportive community. At 16, Browning had left his well-to-do family to join a travelling circus: he drew on his personal experiences for Freaks. Cleopatra, the trapeze artist, is an object of admiration for diminutive Hans, she plays along with his infatuation, hurting his short statured fiancée Frieda. When Cleopatra learns that Hans has a great inheritance, she conspires with Hercules, the Strong Man, marrying Hans and then poisoning him. When the disabled circus performers find out, they kill Hercules and deform Cleopatra. Prior to this, oblivious to the plot against Hans at the Wedding Feast, the disabled performers (played by disabled people and real circus performers) try to accept Cleopatra as normal by passing a wine goblet round the table saying “We accept her. One of us. Gooba-gobble, gooba-gobble”. Cleopatra is appalled at this thought and reveals her true feelings. The cinematography often shows the disabled people as frightening. And the film was unhelpfully lumped into the horror genre.

6. Reach for the Sky (Dir. Lewis Gilbert, 1956)
A British biographical film about aviator Douglas Bader, based on the 1954 biography of the same name by Paul Brickhill. The film stars Kenneth More and in 1956 won BAFTA Best Film. Having joined the RAF in 1930, Bader is giving a display of aerobatics and crashes. Mr Joyce, surgeon at the Royal Berkshire Hospital, has to amputate both legs to save Bader’s life. His rehabilitation and learning to use his prosthetic legs is a struggle, but Bader refuses to compromise and use a walking aid as exemplified in this scene. Upon his discharge from the hospital, he sets out to master prosthetic legs. He meets a waitress, Thelma Edwards. Once he can walk on his own, he starts courting her. Cashiered from the Air Force to civilian life when the War starts, he finds his way back, becoming a flying ace and later Wing Commander. A good example of the Triumph over Tragedy genre.

7. Wait until Dark (Dir. Terence Young, 1967)
Back with blind women. This time as unsuspecting victim in a tense thriller, where Audrey Hepburn is first intimidated by drug dealers in search of their disguised dope and then outwits them. Here in the trailer the suspense is building, as Alan Arkin and his gang hide in her flat. This set the style for a whole series of films showing disabled people as helpless victims, particularly blind women.

8. See No Evil Hear No Evil (Dir. Arthur Hiller, 1989)
A blind man named Wally Karew (Richard Pryor) and a deaf man named Dave Lyons (Gene Wilder) meet when Wally applies for a job in Dave’s New York City concession shop. After a brief period of confusion and antagonism, Wally and Dave become friends. Dave reads lips and guides Wally when they travel, and Wally tells Dave about invisible sounds and what people say behind his back. They have various adventures which are either unrealistic or designed to laugh at the two disabled protagonists. This film took the disabled person as the butt of jokes to a new level.

9. Batman Forever (Dir. Joel Schumacher, 1995)
Reinforcing the trend when making Marvel Comics into films, where disabled and here disfigured characters represent evil. Two Face (Tommy Lee Jones), one side good, one side bad flips a coin to decide the fate awaiting his victims in Gotham City. At the end of this scene he is with another villain The Riddler ( Jim Carey), who has mental health issues.

10. James Bond, when are you going to stop killing disabled people? (Jane Seymour, 2015)
“Spectre a Sensitivity Training Programme “ James you have a creepy prejudice against people with disabilities. You’re always killing them. Dr No –amputee, Emilio Largo -visual impairment, Bloefeld -paralyzed, Te Hee Johnson- amputated hand, Scaramango- third nipple, Stomberg-webbed hands, Jaws-giantism, metal teeth, Trevelyan and Drax-facial disfigurement, La Chiffe- weeping bloody eye, Raoul Silver- missing jaw, facial disfigurement. The evil and vengeful disabled villain par excellence.

11. Tropic Thunder (Dir. Ben Stiller, 2008)
This is a satirical parody of some of the recent excesses of Hollywood. At the beginning, there are a number of spoof trailers about other films the main protagonists have appeared in. Ben Stiller as Simple Jack- ‘a retard’. Then follows a debate between Ben Stiller (Tugg) and Robert Downey Junior (Kurt) as actors, walking along a rain forest track in a supposed Vietnam movie, but actually they are in a real war with drug dealers. They discuss Tugg’s playing Jack and Kurt comes up with the memorable line “never go full retard”. Most audiences found it funny, but the 17 mentions of ‘retard’ reinforces this as an OK word. Disabled people demonstrated their objections.

12. TV Raspberry Ripple (1997 Ch 4), Bad TV Drama Award Hamish Macbeth (BBC 1997 The Stone)
The Raspberry Ripple awards were organised by the 1 in 8 Group to reward best and worst portrayal in a number of categories. Here, the award for worst tv drama went to Hamish Macbeth, a BBC1 comedy drama series set in the Scottish Islands, that had a stereotyped villain with an eye patch, hooked hand and prosthetic leg!

13. Scent of a Woman (Dir. Martin Brest, 1993)
Preppy Charlie Simms (Chris O’Donell) takes the job of supporting irascible retired Lt. Colonel Frank Slade (Al Pacino). Here having borrowed a Ferrari from the show room for a test drive, Charlie swaps the driving seat with Slade. In a most unrealistic scene, he puts the car through its paces in some derelict streets of New York. The film reinforces the super-crip stereotype, with a subtext that life is not worth living as a disabled person.

Attempts at more realistic portrayal and the way forward

14. Best Years of Our Lives (Dir. William Wyler, 1946)
This American film is about three United States servicemen readjusting to civilian life after coming home from World War II. Samuel Goldwyn was inspired to produce a film about veterans after reading an August 7, 1944, article in Time about the difficulties experienced by men returning to civilian life. Goldwyn hired former war correspondent MacKinlay Kantor to write a screenplay. His work was first published as a novella, Glory for Me, which Kantor wrote in blank verse. Robert Sherwood then adapted the novella as a screenplay. Harold Russell plays Homer, a double amputee with prosthetic arms. This scene deals with his concerns that his girlfriend, Wilma, could never want him or cope with his impairment. Frederic March’s and Dana Andrews’ characters have huge psychological problems adjusting. Russell got an Oscar and a second Oscar for all the disabled ex-servicemen. He never worked as an actor again.

15. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (Dir. Milos Forman, 1975)
In 1963 Oregon, Randle Patrick “Mac” McMurphy (Jack Nicholson), a recidivist anti-authoritarian criminal serving a short sentence on a prison farm for the statutory rape of a 15-year-old girl, is transferred to a mental institution for evaluation. Although he does not show any overt signs of mental illness, he hopes to avoid hard labour and serve the rest of his sentence in a more relaxed hospital environment. McMurphy’s ward is run by steely, unyielding Nurse Mildred Ratched (Louise Fletcher), who employs subtle humiliation, unpleasant medical treatments and a mind-numbing daily routine to suppress the patients. McMurphy finds that they are more fearful of Ratched than they are focused on becoming functional in the outside world. McMurphy establishes himself immediately as the leader; his fellow patients include Billy Bibbit (Brad Dourif), a nervous, stuttering young man; Charlie Cheswick (Sydney Lassick), a man disposed to childish fits of temper; Martini (Danny De Vito), who is delusional; Dale Harding (William Redfield), a high-strung, well-educated paranoid; Max Taber (Christopher Lloyd), who is belligerent and profane; Jim Sefelt (William Duell), who is epileptic; and “Chief” Bromden (Will Sampson), a silent Native American of imposing stature who is believed to be deaf and mute. McMurphy’s and Ratched’s battle of wills escalates rapidly. Won all the main Oscars and raised awareness of the negative impact of institutionalisation of disabled people with mental health problems and the treatments to which they were subjected.

16. Coming Home (Dir Hal Ashby, 1978)
Sally Hyde (Jane Fonda) makes an ideal wife for a Marine: she is faithful, friendly, sexy in a quiet way, and totally in agreement with her husband’s loyalties. When her husband goes off to Vietnam Sally breaks out with a sports car, renting a beach house and volunteers at the local Veterans’ Hospital, personned by genuine disabled veterans. Luke (Jon Voight) is angry at his impairment which he slowly channels into being Anti-War. The two start a relationship. Sally becomes Luke’s lover. This is sensitively portrayed and broke new ground in challenging ‘the disabled people are asexual’ stereotype.

17. Elephant Man (Dir. David Lynch, 1980)
A Victorian surgeon, Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) rescues a heavily disfigured man, John Merrick, (John Hurt) who is mistreated while scraping a living as a side-show freak. Behind his monstrous facade, there is revealed a person of intelligence and sensitivity through the interaction with Mrs Treves (Ann Bancroft). Allowed to stay at the London, he is treated as a curiosity by London Society to be seen and talked about-still a ‘freak’. The film, a critical and commercial success, was based on a true story set at the London Hospital in Whitechapel, showing the intolerance for difference in Victorian society and challenged disablist thinking in the 1980s.

18. Rain Man (Dir. Barry Levinson, 1988)
The film tells the story of an abrasive and selfish young wheeler-dealer, Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise), who discovers that his estranged father has died and bequeathed all of his multimillion-dollar estate to his other son, institutionalised Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) with autism, with very strong routines, amazing memory and counting skills, of whose existence Charlie was unaware. Charlie is left only his father’s car and his collection of rose bushes. He sets out to find his brother, firstly kidnapping him to get some of the money as ransom. He realised Raymond lived with them when he was small-someone he thought was his imaginary friend Rain Man. In this scene in a cafe, Raymond reveals his amazing memory by having memorised the local telephone book. Charlie puts Raymond’s skills to use in Las Vagas, winning enough money to clear his debts. The film challenged the public to think differently about autism, though most people with autism do not have exceptional abilities.

19. My Left Foot (Dir. Jim Sheridan, 1989)
Based on the life of Christie Brown, who was born with cerebral palsy and thought to be without intellect by his family, until he confounds them by writing with his left foot. Daniel Day Lewis in preparation for the part stayed in a wheelchair for three months, studied people with CP, and did the painting in the film with his left foot. Without Lewis’s box office appeal, the film would never have been made, but the young Brown should have been a boy with CP. In this scene, Brown is grown up and it is the wake of his father. When insulted the Brown’s show solidarity and a fight ensues initiated by Brown (Lewis). The film challenges the idea of disabled people as a burden and shows well our similarity and differences.

20. Deptford Graffiti (Dir. Phil Davies, Play 4, Channel 4. 1991)
George (Nabil Shaban), wheelchair user and hospital for incurables resident, is released by Cherry (Sharon Maiden) and a group of Hell’s Angels. George customises their bikes and suggests, designs and directs a huge piece of graffiti which epitomises biker culture: sex, drugs and heavy metal. The care home/hospital is full of disabled people played by disabled actors and the play illustrates the cruelty and dehumanising impact of such institutions. In this scene, Cherry offers to have sex with a worried George.

21. The Body Beautiful (Dir. Ngozika Onwurah, 1990, BFI)
This film is an autobiographical piece featuring both Ngozi herself, and Ngozi’s mother, Madge Onwurah. Both women narrate certain portions of the film and appear in the film as themselves. The Body Beautiful discusses both women, and their lives and fears. Madge speaks of marrying a Nigerian man, bearing mixed race children, and having breast cancer followed by a mastectomy. In this scene Madge makes love to a younger black man (Brian Bovell) in the first TV or film, recorded scene of a disabled woman making love.

22. House Gang (Australian TV, 1996 & 1998) [Clip on Raspberry Ripple]
An Australian television comedy series that screened on Channel 4 and the Special Broadcasting Service. T The series features the formerly wealthy, habitually dysfunctional family of Mike Wilson and his contentious 15-year-old daughter Chloe. Mike, a builder who has gone bankrupt and Chloe decide to move in with their tenants, a trio of young adults with learning difficulties named Belinda (Ruth Cromer), Trevor (Saxon Graham) and Robert (Chris Greenwood), and their support worker Jack (Jeanette Cronin). At first, appalled by their new roommates, the Wilsons soon discovered that they had a lot to learn from the industrious housemates.

23. Sixth Happiness ( Dir. Waris Hussein, 1997)
British film by an Indian director. It is based on the autobiography of Firdaus Kanga, entitled Trying to Grow. Kanga played himself in this film about Britain, India, race and sex. Sixth Happiness is about Brit, a boy born with brittle bones who never grows taller than four feet, his families attempts to cure him using faith healing and his sexual awakening as family life crumbles around him. It is also about the Parsi or Parsees – descendants of the Persian empire who were driven out by an Islamic invasion more than a thousand years ago and settled in western India. In this scene Brit is in the lodger, Cyrus’s bedroom (Ahsen Bhatti). After a traumatic encounter Brit has his first gay kiss, only to be scolded by his mother (Souad Faress).

24. Frida (Dir. Julie Taymor, 2002)
American biopic drama film which depicts the professional and private life of the surrealist Mexican disabled painter Frida Kahlo. It stars Salma Hayek in her Academy Award-nominated portrayal and Alfred Molina as her husband, Diego Rivera. The movie was adapted from the book Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera. Hayek had to fight for 10 years to get the funding to make this movie. Frida had polio as a child and when she was 19 years old, serious injury in a crash which led to complications throughout her life. The film shows well how Frida made herself the main subject of her art. Towards the end of her life she gets a one person show in Mexico, but is too ill to attend the opening. With her indomitable spirit she goes to the opening in her bed.

25. Every Time You Look at Me (Dir. Alrick Riley, 2004, BBC)
Drama about a deputy headteacher who is thalidomide-affected, Chris (Mat Fraser) and a four foot woman hairdresser, Nicky (Lisa Hammond) who fall in love and have a relationship, in spite of their internalised oppression and prejudice from society. The first feature length film starring two disabled actors playing the lead parts, which benefitted from a disabled producer (Ewan Marshall). In this scene near the beginning of their relationship, Chris is embarrassed to meet Nicky for a second time and to see her dancing and enjoying herself. He tells her she is making a laughing stock of herself. Nicky hits back about him not having arms.

26. West Wing (Series 5 Episode 11 ‘Benign Prerogative’ Jan 2004)
An American serial political drama television series inside the White House, created by Aaron Sorkin, aired on NBC from September 22, 1999 to May 14, 2006. There are 154 regular season episodes. Disabled characters played by disabled actors appear quite frequently. Here, Deaf actor Marlee Matlin appears as a deaf pollster with her interpreter, in an unremarkable manner, except that she is pregnant. This inclusion, just being there, is the best challenge to stereotypes.

27. Yo Tambien (Me Too) (Spanish, Dir. Antonio Naharro & Alvarro Pastor 2009)
Daniel (Pablo Pineda) an actor with Down’s syndrome, a recent university graduate, falls in love on his first day at work in the Department of Social Services. Laura (Lola Dueñas) is an outsider who spends her nights in the city’s crowded clubs and singles’ bars, escaping her problems in the arms of total strangers. Yet despite their apparent incompatibility, the two strike up a moving, bittersweet friendship that touches them both and eventually sets them on the road to happiness. In this scene they have gone to the beach together and Daniel is openly talking about himself for the first time. Laura has assumed he cannot tie his shoe laces and he has not corrected her

28. Cast Offs (Ch 4, 2009 Creators Jamie Campbell, Jack Thorne, Joel Wilson)
A darkly comic drama series telling the story of six disabled characters sent to a remote British island for a fictional reality show. As the camera crew follows their struggle with island life – from learning to build their own homes and grow their own food, to fights, births and falling in love – flashbacks reveal more about each of them and the year leading up to the moment they are left stranded. Dan (Peter Mitchell), sportsman, 26 years old, paraplegic, Tom (Tim Gebbels), actor, 39 years old, blind, Will (Mat Fraser), political activist, 46 years old, thalidomide-affected, Gabriella (Sophie Woolley), mother-to-be, 32 years old, deaf, April (Victoria Wright), research scientist, 34 years old, cherubism, Carrie (Kiruna Stamell), unemployed, 29 years old, dwarfism.

29. The Kings Speech (Dir. Tim Hooper, 2010)
The King, George VI (Colin Firth) has to accede to the British thrown after his elder brother abdicates. After seeing various speech therapists to no avail, his wife (Helena Bonham Carter) finds an unconventional speech therapist Lionel Louge (Geoffrey Rush). Firth shouts “The nation believes that when I speak, I speak for them. Well, I can’t speak.” the King relies on the help of this little-known Australian speech therapist to overcome his stammer enough to give important public speeches. King George VI had physical impairments as a child which, were treated harshly and the stammering was thought to be physical. Lionel Louge has different ideas. He believes that it comes from deeper psychological issues, a very strange notion at the time. After speaking about his childhood, lack of friends and bullying, the King begins to open up to Louge and realise that he can be a great leader and control his stammer. In this scene he reveals some of his secrets.

30. Homeland (Series 1, 2011)
CIA officer Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is tops in her field despite being bi-polar, which makes her volatile and unpredictable. With the help of her long-time mentor Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin), Carrie fearlessly risks everything, including her personal well-being and even sanity. Suspenseful and gripping, emotional thriller in which nothing short of the fate of the nation is at stake. Throughout the five series, Carrie’s bi-polar is an important plot device, but unrealistic. In this Scene, Carrie borrows some meds from her Dad (Frank Rebhorn) who is also bi-polar, as they discuss the impact on their behaviour.

31. Rust and Bone (Dir. Jaques Audiard, 2012)
Put in charge of his young son, Alain (Matthias Schoenaerts) leaves Belgium for Antibes to live with his sister and her husband as a family. Alain’s bond with Stephanie (Marion Cotillard), a killer whale trainer, grows deeper after Stephanie suffers a horrible accident. Alain helps her recover and gives her back her self-esteem as a double amputee she adjusts to life as a disabled person. The film has one of the first big screen scenes where a disabled woman, though played by a non-disabled actor, makes love. In this scene Alain gets Stephanie back in the water and swimming.

32. Switched at Birth (2013, Creator Lizzy Weiss, ABC, US)
An American television drama series with 93 episodes in 4 series. This is set in the Kansas City metropolitan area, and revolves around two teenagers, one deaf, who were switched at birth and grew up in very different environments: one in the affluent suburb of Mission Hills, Kansas, and the other in working-class East Riverside, Missouri. According to ABC Family, it is “the first mainstream television series to have multiple deaf and hard-of-hearing series regulars and scenes shot entirely in American Sign Language (ASL).” In this scene, Carlton the Deaf School, with some reverse inclusion, is threatened with closure and the students occupy.

33. The Imitation Game (Dir. Moten Tyldhum, 2014)
“Sometimes it is the people whom no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine” is a theme of this thriller/biopic telling the story of the Enigma-Nazi Code breaking. Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) plays an expert in Artificial Intelligence. Turing, who had Asperger syndrome and was gay was forced to undergo chemical castration when convicted of homosexual acts after the War. In this scene with John Cairncross (Alan Leech) and Hugh Alexander (Mathew Goode), Turing misunderstands figurative language, demonstrating his Neuro-diversity. The message of the film is that it was his Neuro-diversity that allowed him to break the Code, thereby shortening the War and saving countless lives.

34. Don’t Take My Baby (Dir. Ben Anthony, BBC Three 2015)
It is estimated that social services will make 11,000 decisions a year about whether disabled parents can keep their newborn babies. The fiendish complications of this stark and upsetting statistic were unpicked here in a perceptive and well-judged drama. Written by disabled writer Jack Thorne, Anna (Ruth Madeley, wheelchair using actor) and partner Tom (Adam Long) had recently had their first baby, Danielle. Anna has a progressive condition and Tom is partially sighted. They are shocked to find a social worker Belinda (Wunmi Mosaku) assessing their parenting skills while Danielle remains in hospital. Eventually they are given the thumbs up. In this scene the social worker first makes herself known to the parents while Anna is still in hospital.