The International Day of People With Disabilities, or Disability Day, has been celebrated every year since 1992. Each year a theme is announced for that year. Each theme touches on ways the international community can continue to push for accessibility for disabled people. The theme for this year is, “transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all.” To put it simply, the theme means that no one should be left behind when it comes to the betterment of society. This includes helping to pull down barriers that exclude disabled people while also encouraging disabled people to be active contributors of society.
To honor that theme, the included items on this list are movies that center not just on a disabled character but on those characters rising to the occasion and on the people around them helping to pull down the barriers that exist in society against disabled people. There is also a focus on actors and musicians who work to be active in the community as well.
Children of a Lesser God
Children of a Lesser God is a special case for many reasons. Much of the criticism when it comes to the way disability is portrayed in the media is two-fold: that the portrayal is incorrect and that disabled characters are being played by able bodied (or non-disabled) people. In this Oscar-winning movie based on a play of the same name, main character Sarah Norman is deaf and is in fact played by a deaf woman, Marlee Matin. It gives the film a bit more realism and ensured that the portrayal was true to the life of an actual deaf person as well. The story, based around new teacher James Leeds attempting to get school janitor Sarah Norman out of her comfort zone, is a touching romance that deals a lot with how isolating it can be to be disabled. Matin, for her part, not only won the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role, she is also the only deaf woman to ever win that award. She continues to speak for deaf people in the country, using her fame to contribute to the betterment of deaf people in the country.
The Station Agent
True fame didn’t come to actor Peter Dinklage until several years after this movie, when he was cast as the cunning Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones. Yet despite that his role in this small-budget film is one of his most lauded roles. A bit of an ensemble film, the Station Agent focuses on pulling Dinklage’s character, Fin, out of his isolation and into the lives of his neighbors and friends. Also included in the movie is a woman named Olivia, played by Patricia Clarkson, who deals with severe depression after the loss of her young son. The two characters, along with a peppy neighbor played by Bobby Cannavale, form a close bond that makes them realize they cannot continue to isolate themselves from each other and from the world anymore. In his personal time, Dinklage campaigns in a more quiet way that most for those with dwarfism. While he doesn’t necessarily give long interviews, he has in the past used his fame to bring attention to issues – most notably during his speech for his 2012 Golden Glob win, where he casually brought the issue of “dwarf-tossing” into the public eye.
Little Miss Sunshine
Though the focus of this comedy is more on the entire family’s dysfunction than one person, part of that dysfunction involves the disability of Steve Carrel’s character, Frank. Frank has depression and attempts suicide before the events of the movie take place. His sister, Olive, feels unsafe leaving him home alone and so Frank is roped into a road trip for his niece’s beauty pageant. Much of Frank’s story centers around him attempting to deal with his own feelings. His ending is more realistic than happy; by the ending he has built a strong support system with his family. The importance of having a support system and how oftentimes, those without support systems can falter, is emphasized with Frank. He finds himself, if still depressed, then at least looking forward to the rest of his life more than he was before.
Tell Me You Love Me – Demi Lovato
Demi Lovato, former Disney idol and current pop star, has had a difficult journey to get to where she is. Since her big break in the Disney Channel’s Camp Rock, the star has dealt with eating disorders and severe mood swings. After an infamous confrontation in 2010 that ended in Lovato punching one of her back up dancers, Lovato revealed she had bipolar disorder. She started in therapy and on medication and since then has found herself living a much more stable life. Her new album Tell Me You Love Me, available on hoopla, dropped in late September to positive reviews. In addition to her music career, Lovato has helped with many charities and programs for mental illness. She even started her own, the Lovato Treatment Scholarship Program, to help pay costs for mentally-ill patients.
A science fiction film is not the first place to look for disability representation, and yet Pacific Rim offers a unique look at disability. Most of the named characters suffer from PTSD, and all attempt to move about their lives despite their illness. Also included in the main cast is a physically disabled character and a cancer patient, both of whom play important parts in the movie. Between epic fight scenes the characters build each other up and create important emotional bonds. Sure, the movie isn’t a dramatic look at disability, but it incorporates disabled people into its story seamlessly. Above that, it shows that disabled people can rise to any occasion – even one that involves fighting sea creatures from the deep from the inside of a giant robot.