Tag Archives: When I Came Home

Top Ten Tips for Teaching Disability Themes in the Classroom

By Nomy Lamm

October is Disability Awareness Month, and it’s the perfect time to make sure that Disability Studies, Art, Culture and Politics are

Mimi and Dona - Square
Mimi and Dona

integrated into any topic you are teaching. Whether you’re teaching Social Work, Medicine, Gender Studies, Black History, Performance Studies, or Early Childhood Development, examining and learning from a disabled experience will provide a fuller and deeper understanding of the course materials for your students. Below are some guidelines to help integrate the perspectives of people with disabilities into your classroom.

 

  1. DON’T perpetuate the myth of the “tragic cripple.” You know, the story where someone is disabled and miserable, and everything they do is so hard, and everyone around them is brought down by their struggle, and then maybe they almost achieve happiness but then… they die. Learn to identify this trope so you can call it out when you see it.  DO offer stories and examples of people with
    F4xL82hQs-1
    The Key of G

    disabilities who are living complex, full lives, who are in reciprocal relationships, who make choices and have life journeys. Mimi and Dona, one of New Day’s recent acquisitions, documents the symbiotic relationship between an aging mother and her disabled daughter, offering a useful jumping off point for analyzing dynamics of inter/dependence. The Key of G is another film that shows a disabled person growing and changing in the context of a community who loves them.                                 

  2. DON’T teach our stories solely through the lens of the medical establishment, or assume that all people with disabilities want a cure. DO examine complexities of access to health care,
    FxEm8n4KJ
    Fixed

    allocation of resources, and how these privileges break down along race/class/age/gender lines. Fixed is a useful documentary for examining the politics of “human enhancement” and the impetus toward “fixing” people’s bodies rather than taking care of people’s basic needs.

  3. DON’T succumb to the false-positive messaging of ‘inspiration porn’ – you know, the story about the amazing disabled person who, despite all their hardship
    WAITSI production still RGB
    Who Am I to Stop It

    s is still able to rise above and overcome their circumstances, inspiring able-bodied people to say, “If they can do it, what’s my excuse?” This narrative centers the able-bodied experience and perpetuates competitive, ableist constructions of “success” and “failure.” DO share materials created by people with disabilities where we frame our own experiences. Who Am I to Stop It is a compelling documentary about three artists with traumatic brain injuries, made by a filmmaker with disabilities from brain injury.

    Michael
    Michael and His Dragon
  4. DON’T hold up one type of disability as the “true” disability.  Disability is an intentionally broad category that includes people with mobility impairments, people who belong to sensory minorities, people with psychiatric disabilities, chronic illnesses, learning disabilities, cognitive challenges, chronic pain, and more. DO
    FKkRyarcK
    When I Came Home

    encourage awareness of the ways our society disables us by stigmatizing the ways we show up in the world. Michael and His Dragon and When I Came Home both follow soldiers who return from Iraq with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Twitch and Shout is about people with Tourette Syndrome, a neurological condition that is often misunderstood.

    FJ0E5FpVb
    Twitch and Shout
  5. DON’T perpetuate unconscious use of ableist language that frames disability as bad.  This includes words like “crazy” when you mean abusive, “lame” when you mean uncool, or “blind” when you mean ignorant, or even words like “weak” or “stupid” that imply ableist hierarchies. DO examine the use of identity labels, including “disability” itself – how are these words used by people who identify with them? Identify nuances of language that differentiate between what we want others to call us, and what we call ourselves. In
    MindGame-NDFWeb2
    Mind Game

    Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw, the most powerful opportunities for healing come when Chamique is able to connect with others who share similar circumstances, to release the shame and isolation associated with words like “crazy.”

  6. DON’T feed into stereotypes of disabled people as sexless and childlike. People with disabilities have desires, are desired by other people, enjoy sex (solo, partnered, in groups…), have relationships, and experience all the ups and downs and ins and outs that come with being an embodied being. People with disabilities are also at high risk of sexual assault, so sex education is crucial to understanding what is happening and knowing that we have a choice. DO promote work by disabled people that explores sexuality. Sins Invalid follows the eponymous Disability Justice performance project and movement-building organization that creates work around disability and sexuality, centralizing artists of col
    MNIS_film_still
    Makind Noise in Silence

    or and queer and gender-variant artists with disabilities.

  7. DON’T isolate disability from other identities, or play ableism against other forms of oppression. There are disabled people in every demographic, so any struggle for justice and liberation also affects people with disabilities.  DO share examples of people navigating simultaneous experiences of racism, ableism, sexism, and more. Making Noise in Silence looks at intersections of deafness, youth, immigration, and race in the lives of two young deaf Korean students. E Haku Inoa: To Weave a Name
    E Haku Inoa To Weave A Name square still
    E Haku Inoa

    looks at the impact of colonization on a mother’s mental health.

  8. DON’T assume that people with disabilities are always in the position of receiving but not giving. Many of us who are disabled are also caregivers, therapists, parents, medical professionals, teachers, and healers. DO look at the ways our lives change over time and how the amount and type of care we receive and offer fluctuates at different moments. States of Grace follows the story
    States of Grace
    States of Grace

    of Dr. Grace Dammann, a pioneering AIDS specialist whose near-fatal car accident changes her perception of self and relationship to her body and family.

  9. DON’T assume that nobody in the classroom has the disability you’re discussing. Disabled people are not a separate group – “they” are part of the “we” that you’re speaking to. DO model accessibility in the classroom by providing opportunities for access needs to be identified, including bio breaks, seating options, lighting changes, large print, captions, audio description, scent-free space, or whatever the individuals in your class might need in order to participate. Most New Day Films are closed captioned, and a number of them including Fixed, Sins Invalid, The Key of G, and Who Am I to Stop It are audio described fo
    FnnsHpHVz
    Read Me Differently

    r blind audiences. For more thoughts about classroom accessibility issues, Read Me Differently is a powerful New Day film about a young woman’s learning differences.

  10. DON’T imagine that you will always be able-bodied!  Everybody experiences some type of disability in their life, whether it’s a temporary injury or surgery, a chronic illness, an accident, or just getting old and losing abilities over time. DO co-create a world that recognizes and respects the many ways we live in our minds and bodies.  

Explore New Day’s rich collection of films on Disability here.  

Intersectional and Interdependent: Disability Films that Embody Complexity

Sins Invalid
Sins Invalid

By Nomy Lamm and Regan Brashear

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.   

E Haku Inoa To Weave A Name square still
E Haku Inoa To Weave A Name

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.   

Why Make Personal Social Issue Films?

By Greta Schiller, New Day Member

Nana-Mom-Me-hi-res_600x600a
“Nana, Mom and Me

One of the films that touched me as a young woman is Amalie Rothschild’s Nana, Mom and Me.  Today it is a classic film; in the seventies it broke new ground. Using photographs, old home movies and direct interviews with her mother and grandmother as well as herself, Rothschild explores the mother-daughter ties in three generations of her own family. In the process she explores the classic female problem faced by her artist mother: the conflict between work and children – the necessary compromises, the incumbent anxieties. The structure is intentionally loose and open-ended, like a good conversation, emphasizing the need to ask the right questions rather than give pat answers.

Recently I watched Rothschild’s film again, this time as a mother struggling with many of the same issues nearly four decades after the film was made.  Returning to the film I thought about how the first-person approach has persisted and evolved over the decades. According to the American University Center for Social Media, “Personal essay films are particularly good at dramatizing the human implications and consequences of large social forces.”

FLQQ6GU8g
By Invitation Only

I spoke with several New Day filmmakers who included themselves on-screen, and found many didn’t set out to include themselves in their films. Some found themselves taking a first-person approach for strategic reasons. In the film By Invitation Only, about the elite, white Carnival societies and debutante balls of Mardi Gras, director Rebecca Snedeker started working with cinema verite footage and interviews. Over time, though, she realized that,

“I had questions that I wanted the film to explore that we could not clearly address through my central character. The first-person narrative allowed us to tease out topics, to gently ask questions and offer reflections. These debutante and carnival traditions are such a foreign, mysterious world to most people, even here in New Orleans, and images of them conjure immediate assumptions and prejudices; just showing the observational footage I was able to capture probably wouldn’t have moved many viewers to a new place, or inspire them to consider the push and pull of other traditions and status quo situations in their own lives.”

still for NDwebsite MB
My Brooklyn

Similarly, Kelly Anderson decided to put her own story, as a Brooklyn “gentrifier,” into My Brooklyn after she had been editing the film for several years. “I was worried it would be too self-indulgent – another filmmaker in her own movie? Please!” she says. But her perspective, as a white person who was concerned with issues of racial and economic equality, but who had also been part of demographic change in formerly Black or Latino neighborhoods, proved a good entry point for many viewers. “In the end, it was about making a policy-dense film feel more approachable and interesting, and also about the ethics of representing others in a situation you are a part of, and how to do that honestly,” Anderson says.

F9viu4h9f
Eating Alaska

When she moved to Alaska, vegetarian Ellen Frankenstein was confronted with new eating challenges, and decided to make a film about it. “I wanted to make an environmental film focused on food, but I didn’t want to point fingers or do it in a simple style,” Frankenstein says. “I didn’t set out to be in Eating Alaska. I put myself in the film as the provocateur, on a journey to figure out what made sense to eat. It has been a great tool for allowing audiences to talk about the choices they make everyday.”

FKkRyarcK
When I Came Home

Some of the most compelling reasons filmmakers put themselves into their own films are ethical. In the case of Dan Lohaus, whose film When I Came Home is about homeless veterans on the hard streets of New York City, it was his own sense of humanity that drove him to “cross the line” and include himself. When his lead character Herold contemplates suicide as winter sets in, the filmmaker allows him to sleep on his couch.  When Dan steps in front of the camera and has to invite a buddy in to film the turn of events, the objective relationship is altered, as is the film’s style and structure.

NODINOS PC F_Page_1
No Dinosaurs In Heaven

There are a million stories in New York, and the third one I will mention is my own film No Dinosaurs In Heaven. I was also hesitant to include my image and voice-over, but I felt it was dishonest not to let the audience know that I was in fact a student in the biology class of the creationist professor.  I felt his behavior was dishonest, and that I needed to be very up front about my relationship to him and to the topic of creationism. No film had ever attempted to diagram the way an individual can manipulate liberal educational philosophy into a tolerance for creationism in the science classroom. It was my point of view that a creationist could not teach science, and in fact he was deliberately hiding his anti-science belief to promote religion.

FNsayZogd
Seeking Asian Female

Some filmmakers find the power relations inherent in documentary filmmaking reversed when their subjects draw them into the filmmaking process. Asian American filmmaker Debbie Lum began work on Seeking Asian Female intending to make an objective film about men who are obsessed with Asian women. “The original idea was to turn the tables on these men and make an objective film about their objectification of Asian women,” Lum says. But when the main character in her film found a woman in China who was half his age to come live with him in San Francisco, she found herself in an unexpected position. “As I filmed and sparks flew, they began to lean on me to translate and my role morphed from documentary observer to marriage counselor. The journey that all three of us went on was full of unexpected lessons, not the least of which was that we all had quite ingrained stereotypes that we had to confront as we got to know each other more personally.”

SUNSHINE_still_image_square_0
Sunshine

The family is the most obvious choice for personal stories in social issue films and New Day has several deeply personal and daringly intimate films. In Father’s Day, Mark Lipman uses evocative home movies and poetic imagery to immerse viewers in conversations about death, suicide, mental illness, memory and the choices we make in creating a family. In Sunshine, Karen Skloss explores the meaning of family through her own journey to understand the legacy of her own birth and the nontraditional family she created by co-parenting with her ex-boyfriend.  “These kinds of films hold great risk of being self-indulgent,” Skloss says. “But I thought that if it were honest enough and went deeply enough that it would resonate for an audience and open up a lot of areas for conversation – which it has.”

Unlike Reality TV or programming strands that rely on formulaic story structure – usually two central characters on either side of an issue – New Day embraces many storytelling devices. This makes our collection both strong in its diversity and evergreen as we delve deeply and sometimes personally into the zeitgeist of our times.