Movies from Another Planet

The presence of people with disabilities on the screen – both big and small, as both documentary and fictitious characters – can only help to remove the taboo of disability and activate the inclusion of those with disabilities. Here are five movies worth watching about and featuring special children.

My Left Foot (1989) (above) is an unforgettable and inspiring clip! This classic is based on the autobiography of Irish writer and painter Christy Brown (Daniel Day-Lewis), who had cerebral palsy. Growing up impoverished in Ireland, Brown had very limited communication as a child, but went on to use the tremendous dexterity in his toes not only to write, but to paint and have a remarkable art career. Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker both won the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Actress in a Supporting Role, respectively.

In Lorenzo's Oil (1992) Susan Sarandon and Nick Nolte give brilliant performances as parents trying to save the life of their son Lorenzo in George Miller's harrowing and heartbreaking tale based on a true story. They are told that Lorenzo has been diagnosed with adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a rare and incurable nerve disease that is always fatal. When they are told to be patient as they watch their son sink further into the debilitating illness, they take matters into their own hands and start their own investigation of the disease. The cast includes 16 special children.

Son-Rise: The Miracle of Love (1979) (with Spanish subtitles) stars James Farentino and Kathryn Harrold. Barry Neil Kaufman and his wife Samahria won the Humanitas Prize for their screenplay of this NBC docudrama, after helping their once-autistic son Raun emerge from the “incurable” illness of autism. Adapted by the biographical book Son-Rise (currently Son-Rise: The Miracle Continues), it is the real life story of how, according to his parents, Raun Kaufman completely recovered from severe autism.

Praying with Lior (2007) tracks the real-life journey of Lior, a boy with a comparatively mild form of Down syndrome, as he prepares for his Bar Mitzvah. The film moves beyond the logistics of living with Down syndrome and explores the interaction of disability and faith.

Monica and David (2009) is an upbeat story of a married couple with Down syndrome and their quest for independence. These two high-functioning adults find that as close as they come to living a “normal” life, it always seems out of reach. Available on Netflix.

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