Movies And Disability


Movies And Disability Essay, Research Paper

Some will argue that a film, being essentially a means of entertainment, can do little to change a national consciousness. Others, citing the power of the medium, will claim that motion pictures possess this rare and extraordinary ability. These two opposing viewpoints are about to be put to the test with a pair of films that, while different in so many ways, have a number of fundamental similarities.

The Miracle Worker” seems to have been ahead of its time in its accurate portrayal of disability. The film shows us that the young Helen Keller (Duke), blind and deaf from infancy, was treated as little more than a family pet before the arrival of her teacher, Ann Sullivan (Bancroft).

One of the central themes is how family attitudes tended to emotionally handicap young Helen. The movie effectively depicts the family’s low expectations of their disabled daughter and gives us a look into how physical disabilities were equated with mental disabilities in an earlier era.

The portrayal of Helen and the other characters is accurate and forthright. The filmmakers don’t hold back to protect our sensibilities, and instead provide a no-holds-barred view of the tragedy and the triumph of growing up and overcoming severe disability.

By the time Annie Sullivan came along in 1887 — nearly blind herself, haunted by her upbringing in an asylum and convinced that people looked down on her because her parents had been Irish immigrants — 6-year-old Helen was nobody’s darling. Frustrated by her inability to communicate, willful and carelessly spoiled by people who no longer wanted to be bothered with her, she threw hurricane-level tantrums that terrorized the household.

Annie taught her to finger-spell; demolished the barrier for Helen between the movements in her hand and the words, objects and ideas they represented; and opened up the world to her. Or did she? Controversy simmered throughout Helen’s life over who was doing the thinking that moved Helen’s fingers. Annie was the brains, her pupil merely the puppet, one contingent insisted, while another believed Helen had plenty of brains herself.

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