For over one hundred years, disabled characters have been ubiquitous in Hollywood movies. Characters in films such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame, A Christmas Carol, To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, Charly, Born on the Fourth of July and Million Dollar Baby are demonized, sainted, infantilized and desexualized. As villains – Mr. Potter, Elijah in Unbreakable — they are embittered, thus driven to kill. As victims – Million Dollar Baby — they are not whole people and thus driven to suicide. As pariahs – Elephant Man — they are shunned. As paragons – Tiny Tim, Johnny Belinda — they suffer greatly and are therefore closer to God.
Using the notoriously misunderstood film Freaks as a frame, the WPA Collective, led by artists with disabilities, is in production on Code of the Freaks, the first documentary to critically examine Hollywood representations of characters with disabilities. Using examples from as far back as 1898 through the present, we interrogate how the disabled character is used through the decades, asking what this imagery means, who is served, how it shapes our ideas about disabled people and how representations of disabled characters have evolved.
Our Tour Guides for this exploration are our own rowdy and bitingly hilarious group of disabled activists, artists and critics. Our “cast” breaks it down, deflates, pokes fun and seriously analyzes metaphorical movie trends: Cure Me or Kill Me, Magical Creature, Monsters and Villains, Mentally Ill Maniacs and Blind Women Victims vs Blind Men Superheroes.
Susan Nussbaum, producer/writer
Carrie Sandahl, producer/writer
Aly Patsavas, producer/writer
Salome Chasnoff, director/writer
Jerzy Rose, director of photography
Meredith Zielke, sound
Kartemquin has partnered with ReelAbilities: Chicago Film Festival to offer ReelLabs––an intimate feedback session for disability-oriented films in progress.
The feedback session takes place October 3rd, with July 31st as the submission deadline. Apply now!