Many of us enjoy telling and listening to good stories. It’s important to have stories about many kinds of people and situations. With that in mind, we’ve put together a list of movies that have people with disabilities at their centre. Many of these are based on actual people or experiences.
Deafness: Children of a Lesser God
This 1986 film is about the romance between James, a speech pathologist at a school for the deaf and hard of hearing, and Sarah, a deaf woman who communicates exclusively through sign language. Conflict ensues when James is determined to hear Sarah speak and consistently pressures her to talk instead of signing. For her performance, Marlee Matlin was awarded an Oscar for Best Actress. She remains the only deaf actress to date who has won an Academy Award.
Cerebral palsy: My Left Foot
My Left Foot is based on the life of Irish writer, painter and poet Christy Brown, who had full conscious control over his left foot only. The movie covers Christy’s life from the time of his birth to the point when he starts writing his autobiography and meets his future spouse Mary Carr. While the movie’s happy ending differs somewhat from Christy’s own life, it remains a record of his determination, talent and spirit to forge his own path.
Ray Charles becomes blind after a childhood illness, but grows to become a legendary rhythm and blues musician famous across the world. In this biopic, Ray is played by Jamie Foxx, who won five awards for his portrayal. While filming, the film’s director Taylor Hackford asked him to wear prosthetic eyelids modeled after Ray’s that took away his sight for around 14 hours a day. Ray was set to attend an opening of the completed film, but sadly passed away due to liver disease several months before the film premiered.
Alzheimer’s disease: Still Alice
This movie follows Alice Howland, a college linguistics professor, after she develops younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease shortly after turning 50. While many stories are told by the caregivers, doctors and social workers working with Alzheimer’s patients, Still Alice focuses on the person who actually lives with the disease.
ALS: The Theory of Everything
Stephen Hawking is one of the most famous people diagnosed with ALS/amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Most know him for his contributions to science, theoretical physics, and how we understand the universe around us. This movie is based on his life and the memoirs of his ex-wife, Jane. It takes the viewer through Stephen’s diagnosis, his work, and the life he leads. It also looks at impact of disability on family and interpersonal relationships, and how relationships and support matter in facing complications of disabilities.
Paraplegia: The Intouchables/The Upside/Inseparables/Oopiri/Thozha
The French comedy-drama The Intouchables has been remade four times already, with a fifth Hindi version slated for an undisclosed time in the future. However, the plot remains the same: a wealthy, isolated paraplegic is teamed with an assistant from a rough background, and both men develop a friendship that helps them grow as people. If watching the original French film isn’t an option, you can also find it in Argentinian Spanish (Inseparables), English (The Upside), Telegu (Oopiri) and Tamil (Thozha).
Intellectual disability: I am Sam
Sam is a single dad with an intellectual disability, raising his daughter Lucy. But trouble starts as Lucy grows up and begins to outpace her father’s capabilities, drawing the attention of social services. Sam’s circle of friends are there to support and help his little family as they deal with the situation, emphasising the power of community for PWD. Lucy was child actress Dakota Fanning’s first major film role, for which she was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award.
Rare disorders: Wonder
This film, based on the novel Wonder by R.J. Palacio, tells the story of August / Auggie Pullman. He has Franceschetti-Klein syndrome, a rare disorder that results in facial and bone deformities (also sometimes known as Treacher Collins syndrome). After some years of home-schooling, Auggie’s parents decide to enrol him in a private school where he makes new friends and has to deal with discrimination and bullying. It’s a good film for older kids and preteens to discuss peer pressure and including those who are “different” from a set standard.
There are a number of films that centre persons with disabilities within their own story, instead of relegating them to the sidelines. It must also be said that persons with disabilities can also go into the performing arts like Marlee Matlin, allowing roles to be played by persons with the stated disabilities. While representation has improved over the years, there is still plenty of room for performers with disabilities to grace the silver screen.
Common Sense Media (2019) Movies with Characters Who Have Physical Disabilities [Accessed: 27 Feb 2019] Available at: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/lists/movies-with-characters-who-have-physical-disabilities
Christine G. (2015) Top Ten Best Inspirational Movies about Disabilities [Accessed: 27 Feb 2019] Available at: https://www.sensoryfriends.com/disability-blogs/top-ten-best-inspirational-movies-about-disabilities
Rachel K. (2015) 9 Oscar-Nominated Films That Got Disease and Disability (Mostly) Right [Accessed: 27 Feb 2019] Available at: https://themighty.com/2015/02/oscar-nominated-films-that-got-disease-and-disability-right/
Ranker (2019) The Best Disability Movies [Accessed: 27 Feb 2019] Available at: https://www.ranker.com/list/best-disability-movies-list/all-genre-movies-lists
Sunrise Medical (2017) 10 Inclusive Movies About Disabilities Worth Watching [Accessed: 27 Feb 2019] Available at: https://www.sunrisemedical.com.au/blog/inclusive-movies-about-disabilities
Vantage Mobility International (2017) Movie Characters With Disabilities Done Right [Accessed: 27 Feb 2019] Available at: https://www.vantagemobility.com/blog/movie-characters-with-disabilities
Wikipedia (2019) I Am Sam [Accessed: 27 Feb 2019] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Am_Sam
Wikipedia (2019) Marlee Matlin [Accessed: 27 Feb 2019] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marlee_Matlin
Wikipedia (2019) Still Alice [Accessed: 27 Feb 2019] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Still_Alice
Wikipedia (2019) Wonder (film) [Accessed: 27 Feb 2019] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wonder_(film)