What’s Worse: Bad Disability Representation or No Representation?

Is it better to have no representation or bad representation of disability in film? For me, they are almost one-in-the-same. With bad representation, it is exhausting to educate people repeatedly that what they saw on screen does not reflect an authentic disability experience. That we still build communities and foster relationships when society tries to isolate us. And when movies like Me Before You make the case that we are better off dead, I would rather the film did not exist in the first place.

Bad representation leads to misconceptions and everyday ableism, which can eventually influence policy and human rights. It actively harms one’s psyche and sense of self-worth. To witness a caricature of yourself that is played off as a joke, or represents horror, or stands in for the audience’s worst fears – you leave the theater deflated.

But no representation is erasure and it also leads to misconceptions and ableism. Not having us on screen is like saying we don’t exist – or that we shouldn’t exist. It’s othering, it’s disturbing, and it doesn’t reflect what society looks like.

Disability in Film event May 16th at 6:30pm EST

My favorite genre of film and TV is space-based science fiction. It’s important that I see disabled people flying spaceships or living on a space station because it means ableism didn’t win and the innate diversity of humanity flourished. And it doesn’t have to be my specific disability portrayed on screen to make me feel represented and present – knowing that the script writers or the showrunners want any disability in their vision of the future gives me hope that our efforts toward 100% inclusion prevailed.

But it’s not enough that disabled people are on screen – we should be in the writer’s room, filming from behind the camera, and leading as directors or producers. The Easterseals Disability Film Challenge, a weekend-long filmmaking contest, aims to fulfill this underrepresented community. The film challenge “provides a platform for new voices in the entertainment industry…[where] winners receive invaluable access to entertainment professionals, opening the door to an industry notoriously difficult to enter.” This event features people with different disabilities taking on various roles in the filmmaking process and shows that we are more than capable of telling our own stories.

This Thursday, Easterseals Thrive is hosting a virtual meetup for disabled women to discuss disability in film and why representation matters. We’ll also watch and share our thoughts on the winning entry from the Disability Film Challenge. To join the event, please visit the official event website to RSVP. Hope to see you there!


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