Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month also falls during March and calls on us to recognize the mixed-ability world in which we live, and the unique contributions, needs, and desires of every person. Explore New Day’s collection of excellent films on disability-related topics. Who Am I To Stop It is a documentary about the traumatic brain injury community, made by Cheryl Green, a filmmaker with disabilities from brain injury. Mimi and Dona, by Sophie Sartain, spotlights a mother-daughter relationship profoundly impacted by aging and disability.
by Alicia Dwyer
Holiday time is approaching, making November the perfect time to explore National Family Caregivers Month. Caring for disabled and older family members is an important part of our development as adults and can be some of the most meaningful work we do. At the same time, this vital work is also often undervalued and many family caregivers lack the support they desperately need, whether it is financial support or time for self-care. These issues have been gaining national attention recently, with both U.S. presidential candidates promising to provide benefits for family caregivers. New Day’s excellent collection of films, including those mentioned below, are powerful tools for addressing family caregiver issues that affect the more than 65 million people in the U.S. who provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or older family member or friend during any given year.
A brand new addition to the New Day collection is filmmaker Sophie Sartain’s Mimi and Dona, which premiered nationally on the PBS series Independent Lens, and was named one of the Best TV Shows of 2015 by The New York Times. A longtime documentary writer and editor, Sartain went very personal with her directorial debut, entering the world of her grandmother and developmentally disabled aunt. She beautifully captures dynamics that have resonance for the 855,000 Americans with intellectual disabilities living with a caregiver over the age of 60. Exploring the deep connection between a mother and daughter, and tackling the question of what happens when the aging caregiver becomes ill, dies, or for whatever reason can no longer care for that person, Mimi and Dona spotlights the challenges of aging caregivers—and details the ripple effects of Dona’s disability across three generations of a family.
Debuting earlier this year on PBS, the award-winning short film Nine To Ninety also follows an aging caregiver – the fierce and irreverent Phyllis Sabatini, who at 89 is helping to care for her 90 year-old husband Joe in the home of their daughter Sarah. But as Phyllis and Joe’s health problems escalate, caregiving falls more and more on the shoulders of their children. Like one out of every eight Americans, daughter Sarah is part of the “sandwich generation,” and in her case she’s caring for everyone in her household from nine to ninety years old. Director Alicia Dwyer captures the three generations with intimacy, subtlety and humor as they face a very difficult decision whether to split up Phyllis and Joe after 62 years of marriage in order to care for them with modest resources. Revealing the shocking gap in support for family caregivers, Nine To Ninety is accompanied by a thoughtful discussion guide and functions as a wake up call to start critical conversations about caregiving– from the most personal level with our own families to the policy debates that are bubbling up on the national stage.
Winner of multiple festival audience awards, States of Grace intimately captures the profound transformation of revered physician Dr. Grace Dammann and her family after Grace is involved in a devastating car accident. With dry humor and brave candor, Grace, her partner Nancy “Fu” Schroeder, and their teenage daughter Sabrina recalibrate their lives. Family dynamics are turned upside down as each of them must negotiate new roles and responsibilities. As the only able-bodied person in their household, Fu becomes the primary caregiver to Grace while also taking on a more active role as parent. Filmmakers Helen Cohen and Mark Lipman reflect that, “After screening States of Grace, we’ve had many people comment about the power and honesty of the caregiver/care receiver relationship and thank us for showing the frustrations and challenges that many individuals face as they care for older adults.” Robert Saper, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Family Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine calls it “an amazing film that poetically captures the many layers of triumph and struggle experienced by both patients and caregivers.”
Andy Abrahams Wilson’s classic film Hope is the Thing with Feathers traverses unexpected places in the emotional journey of caregiving for a loved one who is dying. A lush and lyrical film built around a poem which San Francisco poet and artist Beau Riley wrote as his lover of twelve years lay dying, the film shows one man plumbing the depths of his sorrow to find meaning through the strength of his mind, imagination, and devotion to his partner. “The [film’s] images and words define life, disease and death with utter sincerity, elemental simplicity, brave spirituality, and great beauty… an important film,” writes Philip Yenawine, Former Director of Education at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Not shying away from the messiness and desolation of the dying process, Hope is the Thing with Feathers discovers the spiritual side of caregiving, as Beau finds the magic in the most difficult of life’s journey and, from this palate, creates an art of remembrance, forgiveness, and moving on.
In honor of LGBTQ Pride Month this upcoming June, queer New Day filmmaker Nomy Lamm offers up a list of suggestions on how best to approach queer and gender-variant issues in the classroom.
- Know our history and embrace our elders. Learning about our
legacy helps us understand who we are. For example, the film Reporter Zero tells the story of Randy Shilts, the first openly gay journalist in the mainstream media, who covered the AIDS crisis when few others would. Before You Know It offers a loving portrait of gay elders, their wisdom and at times alienation from the culture they helped create, while Beauty Before Age looks at the emphasis on youth and beauty in gay male culture. The Campaign and One Wedding and a Revolution both share histories of the battle for gay marriage, and the trailblazers who paved the way.
- Don’t forget the “T.” Trans people have been here since the
beginning, yet are often left out of the conversation about LGBT communities. Currently, anti-trans legislation is sweeping the country, making the world that much less safe for those of us whose existence lies outside the binary. Learn more about the lives, perspectives, and unique experiences of trans people in New Day films including Trinidad, Prodigal Sons, and The Family Journey: Raising Gender Nonconforming Children.
- Be Intersectional. When we talk about the liberation of LGBTQ
people, we must center the perspectives and experiences of LGBT people of color, queers with disabilities, and those of us who are living at the crossroads of multiple identities, and therefore are most impacted by systems of oppression. Pariah, Sins Invalid, and Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw each tell stories of the often overlapping gifts and struggles of being queer, black, brown, and disabled.
- Look beyond the U.S. The layers of identity, experience,
oppression and resilience are mirrored and contrasted when we look beyond the borders of the United States. City of Borders is set in the only gay bar in the city of Jerusalem, exposing the homophobia faced in a conservative religious city, as well as power dynamics and alliances between Israeli and Palestinian queers. Tales of the Waria highlights trans women in Indonesia, home of the world’s largest Muslim population, and the pressures of family, religion, money, and aging, as they strive to be true to themselves and find love.
- Honor our youth. Queer youth are some of the most vulnerable
and most dynamic members of our community, and they have much to teach us. While homophobia and bullying can isolate our youth and make them believe they have no options, the empowerment of queer youth voices is a balm for our collective spirit. The Year We Thought About Love, Gay Youth, and I’m Just Anneke each reveal some of the hardships faced by queer youth, including the threat of violence, homelessness, and suicide, as well as the healing that is possible through storytelling, community, art, activism, and belief in oneself.
- Bear witness to the violence and discrimination that LGBTQ
people are subjected to. The LGBTQ community has earned hard-won advances and a sense of pride, but often these victories come in the face of devastating loss and violence. Laramie Inside Out wrestles with the legacy of Matthew Shepard’s murder, while Puzzles teases out contributing factors of a violent hate crime in Massachusetts. Out at Work illustrates what happens when LGBTQ people are not protected from workplace discrimination. Out In The Night shows how interpersonal and institutional homophobia and racism compound each other, when four Black lesbian youth end up serving time in prison and facing assault charges for fighting back against an assailant.
- Encourage students to examine their own homophobia. It’s
important to explore the connections between homophobia and gender boxes, the ways we sometimes force ourselves and our children into prescribed versions of masculinity and femininity, and punish those who don’t conform in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. These underlying biases fuel the bullying epidemic, and reinforce fear around fitting in. Check out The Boy Game, Straightlaced: How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up, and It’s Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School as jumping-off places for these conversations.
- Examine how we define “family” today. The “ideal family” is a
cultural construct which is in the process of expanding and becoming more inclusive. Films like That’s a Family!, Daddy & Papa, and Choosing Children show the joys and complexities of chosen family, while No Dumb Questions, Bubbeh Lee and Me, and The Smith Family show what happens when people in our families defy our expectations. We can all learn from each other on our individual pathways to meaningful and fulfilling family life.
As we celebrate Disability Awareness Month this October, we recognize the many gains the Disability Rights movement has made over the past four decades. Through grass-roots protests and political campaigns, activists helped put in motion legislation guaranteeing equal access under the law to jobs, schools, transportation, public spaces, housing and attendant care. Later victories included the de-institutionalization of hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities under the Olmsted Decision.
While these gains have improved the quality of life for many, the Disability Rights movement has left a number of “cliffhangers,” as Patty Berne, a leader in the Disability Justice movement, puts it. The focus on single-issue rights and highlighting of wheelchairs as the primary symbol of disability have unintentionally left many behind. By ignoring the influence of race, class, gender, and sexuality on disability, we overlook the complexity and needs of the broader disability community. Similarly, the exclusive focus on mobility impairments has meant that bridges have not always been built with members of our extended communities—such as people with mental health disabilities, or who experience chronic pain, or who are blind or Deaf. In response to these needs, the Disability Justice movement has arisen with people of color at the forefront, articulating a new framework that is intersectional and interdependent.
New Day’s catalogue offers a collection of films that expand our understanding of disability. Five films in particular explore the intricate intersection between disability and race: Sins Invalid, E Haku Inoa: To Weave a Name, Making Noise in Silence, Mind/Game, and When I Came Home.
Sins Invalid: An Unshamed Claim to Beauty documents a Bay Area performance project that highlights artists with disabilities who are queer, gender non-conforming, and people of color, and who create work around themes of disability, sexuality, and social justice. Director Patty Berne, poet Leroy Moore, and a dozen other artists share their intimate and beautiful process and work, offering an entryway into the absurdly taboo topic of sexuality and disability.
When filmmaker Christen Marquez was born, her mother, a kumu hula (master hula practitioner), gave her a Hawaiian name that was over sixty letters. Eight years later, her mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and Christen and her siblings were taken away from her. E Haku Inoa: To Weave a Name tells of Christen’s return to Hawaii, and is an elegant depiction of how the act of sharing indigenous knowledge can play a healing role in restoring otherwise estranged relationships. Marquez reflects, ”There is a stigma of sickness that is imported into indigenous communities and although there are many health problems that exist in indigenous communities, I wonder if some diagnoses aren’t a fulfillment of an expectation. Many people don’t need a diagnosis; they just need someone to help them heal.”
Director/producer Mina Son explores the richness and complexities of Deaf culture in Making Noise in Silence, through the perspective of two Korean high school students who attend the California School for the Deaf, Fremont. Born and raised in South Korea, Jeongin Mun and Min Wook Cho have strong ties to their Korean heritage and learned Korean as their first language. However, what separates Jeongin and Min Wook from most children of immigrant families is that they are also deaf. Filmmaker Mina Son shares: “Deaf immigrants face many of the same challenges people with multiple identities face. Navigating multiple languages, cultures, and histories can be overwhelming, especially for a young person who is still trying to understand who they are and where they belong.”
Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw, by Academy Award-nominated director Rick Goldsmith, is the portrait of a Black woman with a mental illness. Chamique Holdsclaw is a 3-time NCAA champ and No.1 draft pick in the WNBA from Astoria, Queens– sometimes called “the female Michael Jordan.” With the help of narrator Glenn Close, Mind/Game intimately chronicles her athletic accomplishments, personal setbacks, and her decision—despite public stigma— to become an outspoken mental health advocate.
Dan Lohaus’ powerful film, When I Came Home, follows the struggles of Herold Noel, an African-American Iraq war veteran who becomes homeless in New York City after returning from combat with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Focusing on Herold’s struggle with the Veterans Administration and city agencies to find the help he needs, When I Came Home reveals a failing system and exposes the “second war” that many veterans must fight after they return home from war.
These films reveal the multiple layers of struggle that disabled people of color must navigate every day, with insight into the human drive toward beauty, empowerment and connection. What is it like to learn American Sign Language as a new immigrant to the US? What are the cultural misunderstandings between the western medical model and indigenous ways of knowing? What does radical embodiment at the intersection of multiple identities look and feel like? How do people heal from the devastation of war when they come home to find a culture that doesn’t include them? New Day hopes these films will illuminate the perspectives of those who have typically been at the margins of the Disability Rights movement, whose daily existence is the embodiment of intersectional activism.
To see our whole collection of disability films, click here.