Films That Teach Empathy for People of All Abilities Get a Thumbs Up
One very encouraging byproduct of concerted efforts to build awareness for special needs issues is that it becomes safer for the uninitiated to see them out and about.
People with special needs have always been there but it wasn’t that long ago that they were held back, set aside, hidden away or held up to ridicule.
Heightened awareness is a positive outcome and it is reason to celebrate as people with special needs work their way into culture through films and other mainstream entertainment. As their stories get told and their characters are identified with, their “other-ness” goes away and they become what they have always been, just people underneath it all.
Here are three excellent films and documentaries worth looking out for. Each one of them has a strong message or hope and understanding. Each one will make anyone feel just a bit more human and a little less closed off from the world.
The Black Balloon
The 2008 Australian film, The Black Balloon, is a beautifully honest story that has garnered some amazing worldwide appreciation.
The director, Ellisa Down, wrote the script, which is largely based on her own life growing up with two brothers who have autism. She also directed the film and it was obviously a labor of love. She created a sweetly humorous and witty film, yet at times its emotional rawness is a reminder that life is often tragic and hard at times.
The main character is Charlie, who is based on Down’s youngest brother, Sean, who not only has autism, but also is an elective mute. His 16-year-old typically developing brother, Thomas (Rhys Wakefield) has been put in charge of taking care of his older autistic brother Charlie (Luke Ford) while their mother (Toni Collette) goes through a difficult pregnancy, and while their father Simon (Erik Thomson) is busy with his duties as an army officer.
Thomas is left with no choice but to bear the brunt of the sometimes unsavory aspects of coping with his brother and his care.
This uplifting, honest and touching film is well worth tracking down at the local video store.
Including Samuel is an award winning documentary that has played on PBS and has and continues to garner wide acclaim. Professional Photojournalist Dan Habib, tells the story of his son, Samuel, diagnosed with cerebral palsy and several other families of children with special needs.
Shot over four years, it is a very personal, passionate portrayal that takes a close, sometimes painfully honest look at children with special needs and their families. Habib respectfully shares the trials and struggles of these families but also the strength, successes and boundless hope that is such a big part of their lives.
Including Samuel carries a powerfully strong message of inclusion for all people with special needs. Yet honestly documenting the cultural and systemic barriers that are still prevalent in our society today.
Check out the website for a screening near by.
The 2009 Spanish film, Yo, Tambien meaning “Me Too” recently caused quite a stir when the lead actor, Pablos Pineda, won the Silver Shell prize at the San Sebastian film festival. He is the first actor with Down’s Syndrome to win this significant award.
The film tells the story of a bright young man with down’s syndrome, Daniel (Pablos Pineda), who was raised in a broad minded family where his parents showered him with options and opportunities. After graduating from university, he gets a job at a social service agency and promptly becomes romantically infatuated with an isolated, somewhat sad young woman, Nuria. (Lola Dueñas)
The film takes a more non-traditional turn as he is confronted with his own sexuality and natural desires plus the not so kind realities of mature love. It also examines what a true friendship is and why it is so valuable to the human spirit.
Yo, Tambien is a brave film with a unique take on the story. It is lovely and touching and really confronts some interesting stereotypes about what is considered “normal”. It honestly portrays these two people who are just wanting the most basic of human desires; to love and be loved.
Ask the local video store about this great movie, they will not disappoint.
What Makes These Movies Stand Out: The Black Balloon, Including Samuel and Yo, Tambien
The Black Balloon, Including Samuel and Yo, Tambien all touch upon sometimes uncomfortable topics with honesty, grace and dignity. They are about people who struggle with different challenges on the daily basis but who have hopes, dreams and feelings like everybody else. They are people with fascinating stories well worth hearing.
See these films and come away touched and changed, perhaps the highest compliment for a movie.