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"A Quiet Place" celebrates disability without tokenization.

[Content note: spoilers ahead] By Jazmine Joyner I was worried before seeing “A Quiet Place”, a new horror film directed by John Krasinski. It stars Emily Blunt,  Krasinski, Noah Jupe, and deaf actress Millicent Simmonds. The film is about a family in a post-apocalyptic world where the absence of sound is crucial to keeping themselves alive. I was worried because Hollywood has a terrible track record with shining a positive and humanizing light on people with disabilities, especially in the horror genre. We are often seen as the grotesque monster; our disabilities used to accentuate the horror—like the blind nurses in “Silent Hill”. If disabled people aren’t shown as the monster, then we are often portrayed as the head henchmen to the main villain. Our primary weapon is somehow associated with our ailment. Le Chiffre in the 2006 James Bond film “Casino Royale” was blind in his left eye—he murders, steals and plunders, giving more credence to the idea that evil people are even more corrupt or immoral when they have some type of physical disability. This tradition continues with films like “Don’t Breathe”, where the blind man whose house is broken into turns out to be a complete and total creep. And in “Kingsman: The Secret Service”, the double amputee, Gazelle, has swords for lower legs and likes to chop everyone in half at the order of her evil boss.    So, walking into the theater, I had genuine reservations about how Millicent’s character, Reagan, would be represented in the story. To say I was pleasantly shocked by “A Quiet Place” would be an understatement. I wasn’t expecting such a smart, nuanced horror film that was not only entertaining, but brilliant in the way it integrates sign language and Reagan’s deafness. Because the world around them has been taken over by otherworldly beings who hunt by the slightest sound, the only way to survive is to be quiet. They walk around barefoot on sand they pre-laid, the children don't play with noisy toys, and thanks to Reagan, who was born deaf, the family has the advantage of communicating through sign language. Sign language became an official and integral character of the film, so much so that when dialogue was spoken, it felt out of place in the world Krasinski created. In many films, Reagan’s deafness would probably be seen as a weakness, and to some extent, Reagan’s father, Lee, does see it as one. He refuses to take her on hunting expeditions, instead opting to take her extremely anxious and scared little brother; never the capable Reagan. But throughout the film, we are reminded that her disability is the real strength of this film. If she wasn’t deaf, her family would have no way of proper fluid communication because they wouldn’t have learned sign language. It is because of Reagan's disability that her family has a leg up in this soundless apocalypse. And throughout the film she proves how capable she is time and time again, gaining not only her father’s trust, but also banishing any doubts the audience might have.

Frida isn’t a commodity, she was a person who fought against materialistic consumerism.

As someone who has spent almost 20 years studying the life and art of Frida Kahlo, I’ve mused for hours over what her doll version would look. Here’s the Frida doll I’ve imagined: Since she spent so much time in a wheelchair due to illness and so many surgeries, her doll would have to come with one as an accessory. Accessories would also include a back brace, body cast, and washable paints so you could draw on her as she did herself. Her right foot to knee would be detachable, and modeled after the red boot prosthesis she designed and painted herself. Her clothing would be ethically sourced from the same villages she commissioned them in Mexico and would be an entire line all of its own to accompany the doll, as well as a variety of hairstyles and headdresses. The doll’s eyebrows would be thick and meet in the middle, and she would have a shadow above her upper lip. Underneath her elaborate outfit, Frida’s doll would be criss-crossed with a variety of scars across her legs, pelvis, belly, and back; Frida suffered her entire life and her avatar would need to represent all the physical pain that inspired and informed her art. The doll would come with a booklet explaining all of this, and would be written in a way that encourages people to go learn more about her rather than just consuming her image because she’s hip now.   But since we can’t have nice things (ever), Mattel created the exact opposite of a doll honoring Frida Kahlo. Instead of looking even a little like Frida, they have made her into an actual Barbie. Her unibrow is softened as are her striking features, and there is no evidence of her disabilities at all. In a nutshell, Frida has been grotesquely whitewashed.   Having been a fierce Communist until her death, she would despise this consumerist and capitalist "tribute" to her life and work on so many levels. Everything that Frida did in her self-presentation eschewed Western standards of beauty. She refused to pluck her brows or wax her face; she didn’t shave her underarms or legs. She rarely wore makeup and instead focused on layering away her pained body under handmade textiles from remote villages in Mexico, almost single-handedly bringing some of these traditional weaving methods back from cultural extinction.

P.T. Barnum was a wicked man, and deserves to be remembered as such.

Every so often pop culture affords us the opportunity to subvert a paradigm, promoting diversity and inclusion through storytelling—the upcoming "A Wrinkle In Time" and "Ocean’s Eight" are perfect examples. But unfortunately and most of the time, like in Hugh Jackman’s new biopic "The Greatest Showman", visual media not only upholds systemic and structural inequalities but goes even further to whitewash over terrible history and evil deeds. "The Greatest Showman" presents the founder of the circus P.T. Barnum as a charismatic hero, framed in multiple love story narratives, as we follow his creation of his so-called Greatest Show On Earth. While multiple accounts of Barnum’s real-life personality do indicate his commanding stage presence and business smarts, "The Greatest Showman" appears to gloss over and omit the laundry list of cruelty, misinformation, and exploitation upon which Barnum relied for his capitalist circus and sideshow projects. Step right up for a reality check about P.T. Barnum. While historians can claim that Barnum made space for the disabled and atypical to work within their physical means, Barnum’s advent of the “freakshow” did not work to promote anti-ableist human rights. Instead, he further marginalized and othered them by framing them as those who are not like "normal" people—he displayed them in ways to heighten their perceived monstrousness and physical difference. The people used as human displays were taunted and verbally abused by spectators, and they were mistreated behind the scenes as well since they had no power to demand equal or even fair treatment to able-bodied carnies and visitors. The "freaks" were not considered equals to the "norms", a fact that "The Greatest Showman" has conveniently overlooked. Often these sideshow performers were indentured servants to the Big Top, since their weekly wages were subsumed into Barnum’s money-making machine to cover lodging and food when touring the country.

Films glamorizing illness are downright dangerous because they put out a false projection of what people like me deal with on a daily basis.

By Jazmine Joyner The "sick girl" genre of film is a name I gave to movies that feature stories around sick women and girls (predominantly white sick women and girls) and about how they flew into a  male character's life and within a short amount of time they teach him how to live, as they die. Movies like "A Fault in Our Stars" (this is the reverse, it's a manic pixie dream boy, refreshing!) , "A Walk to Remember", " I Miss You Already", "Now is Good", "Me, Earl, and The Dying Girl", and "Me Before You"  are prime examples of films that use illness as an inspirational tool to serve white able-bodied people.   I am borrowing the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, which is a term coined by film critic Nathan Rabin that is defined as "That bubbly, shallow cinematic creature that exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures." This definition fits these characters to a tee. In "A Walk To Remember" Mandy Moore's sick and soulful character Jamie Sullivan teaches Shane West's bad boy going down the wrong tracks, Landon Carter, about love and being an upstanding human, even finding the time in-between chemotherapies to reunite Landon and his father. Jamie's illness even inspires Landon to go into medicine. All while our girl Jamie is this stagnant character that solely lives to be loved by Landon. She needs nothing else, craves nothing, and then dies. She is a perfect manic pixie sick girl.   Films like "A Walk To Remember" are harmful because of how they represent sickness and those who are living with illnesses every day. Every film mentioned above is used not to show a real person dealing with chronic disease and having a good life despite their diagnosis. But make the sick person a prop to their abled counterpart. They are a life lesson or some inspirational figure there to only further the abled characters development. In these films you see glamorous frail white girls laying in bed pining for love. Because you know love can heal, naturally.  These depictions not only are boring but are completely unoriginal.  

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