Rust and Bone

I went to a screening earlier this week of one of the most beautiful and brutal films I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch; ‘Rust & Bone’ is a compelling and complicated love story exploring issues of friendship, romance, sexuality, poverty and disability.

It is a tense film to sit through, there were moments so raw and visceral that I had to peek from behind my fingers, though couldn’t actually look away totally; I didn’t want to miss a single frame of the direction by Jacques Audiard. I don’t want to ruin the story by divulging too much of the plot but it’s no secret that killer whale trainer, Stephanie, (Marion Cotillard), is injured in an accident that leaves her with a physical disability. The film revolves around her budding friendship with the chivalrous troubled loner, Ali, (Matthias Schoenaerts) and their complex, contrasting lives.

When watching films featuring disability, especially wheelchair users, I’m always torn between wanting to watch the film as an audience member and wanting to assess the accuracy of the actor’s portrayal of the physicality and the emotions captured in the scriptwriting. (As an actress there is also always a part of me considering what I might have done differently in the same role).

In my opinion Marion Cotillard gives the best performance of a wheelchair user I’ve ever seen; admittedly I don’t know the reality of the specifics of Stephanie’s particular injury so can’t comment on how realistic the physical rehab was, but her portrayal of a wheelchair user is simply incredible. She struggles initially with the alien and cumbersome metal frame, finding it difficult to negotiate around rooms the way most of us do post injury; but later she develops the natural affinity so that using the chair becomes effortless and graceful. Cotillard moves the wheelchair so fluidly, it becomes an extension of her body, it is the chair that provides her the independence and freedom to escape her apartment and move on with her life. The scenes where she isn’t in the chair are pretty spectacular too, she isn’t scared by her altered body, she tentatively embraces it and looks to move forward in a different direction; it was great to finally see a disabled woman having a decent sex scene too!

On a very personal note there were moments captured on screen that resonated so deeply with me they triggered an instant freefall of tears down my face; emotions I’ve kept private and never shared with anyone else were depicted on screen so accurately yet so subtly. I’m in awe of the scriptwriting, the directing and of course Ms Cotillard….she rocks the chair well.

Rust & Bone is a truly amazing film and I urge you to go and see it.

Check out the official trailer here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1u74RX6o-8I&feature=youtu.be

On general release from Friday 2 November 2012.

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Posted in Disability, Film | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Newsnight

Last Wednesday (29.08.12) I was a guest on Newsnight on BBC2 along with Francesca Martinez, Ann Wild and Mark Littlewood discussing the Paralympics and their potential to change the perception of disabiity in society, and also the impact of welfare reforms on the current recepients of DLA and other disability related benefits.

3 days left to catch up on iPlayer:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01mfjm9/Newsnight_29_08_2012/

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The Paralympics and Me

Here’s a link to a new blog post on The Independent website, it’s about my feelings towards the Paralympics and how much my attitude has changed in the past six months.

http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2012/08/28/at-first-i-didn’t-want-to-be-defined-by-my-paralysis-and-now-im-proud/

 

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Disability & Advertising: The Independent

In case you missed it (though I have to confess I did excessively self promote on Twitter & Facebook) I wrote my first blog for The Independent last week.

It was written in response to the publicity surrounding designer Dolores Cortes’ decision to feature a young girl with Downs Syndrome in the catalogue for her children’s clothing range. In the piece I applauded her choice and discussed the potential positive changes that could occur in society if mainstream advertising acknowledged people with disabilities and their families.

http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2012/07/26/if-you-judged-the-world-on-advertising-you-wouldnt-know-disabled-people-exist/

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Disability in Drama

I’ve read two great blogs this week discussing the portrayal of disability in drama and the lack of accurate and positive characters. It’s frustrating both as a disabled actress and as a disabled viewer to see inaccuracies and stereotypes on screen so it’s very much welcome that broadcasters and scriptwriters are finally engaging with this issue with some enthusiasm. I’d like to try and assure any script writers reading this that it’s not so daunting to write characters with a disability; you write them just as you would any other character, the same range of human emotions, just with a limb missing or paralysis or reduced hearing or sight; it’s incidental not integral. The plot shouldn’t focus on their disability, if you ask most of us we’ll tell you it’s not the centre of our daily lives.

If you still need proof that you can ignore a disability on screen I urge you to watch ‘Game of Thrones’, Peter Dinklage is bloody brilliant as Tyrion Lannister; the writing and his performance  strip away any preconceived ideas about disability and capability.  (He reminds me of JR Ewing, the dynamic, unscrupulous bastard with a sexy twinkle in his eye). It proves how simply the physicality of disability can add a layer to the scenes, any challenges to staging or screening can be overcome with the assistance and input of actors with disabilities; we’re professionals who know our own disabilities and their nuances and we’re well practiced at overcoming dramatic and logistical challenges.

Below is an article I wrote in 2009 for the BBC in house magazine ‘Ariel’ discussing this same topic and also I’ve attached links to the other blogs I mentioned so do please take a read, they make excellent points.

Blog by Katie Boyles:

http://nuttynatterchatter.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/script-reader-gripes-3-why-arent-we.html

Piece by Lisa Hammond on Stella Duffy’s Blog:

http://stelladuffy.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/writing-the-invisible-visible-and-doing-it-well/

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BBC3: Cherry Healey: How to Get A Life

I generally try to avoid blogging when I’m feeling particularly charged about an issue, I know that it’s best to allow time for the fog to clear and think about things before putting fingers to keyboard.

However tonight I want to write while I’m still feeling so frustrated.

I’ve just finished watching Cherry Healey’s How to Get a Life, I was looking forward to this episode addressing issues around prejudice because I knew they were going to feature an interesting piece on disability and sexuality. ( I had been asked to contribute and really wanted to but I was away in the US during filming).

Cherry was very honest about her own experiences (or lack therof) with disabled people, I appreciated her asking the questions that most people are secretly dying to ask but are unlikely to unless they know someone with a disability. She interviewed a young woman who is paraplegic and participates in pornography and was totally open about her own surprise that disabled people have the same sexual desires as anyone else.

I was expecting frank and forthright conversation about disability and sex from a confident and sexually positive young disabled woman who would be able to dispel a few myths about disability and perhaps change a few prejudiced attitudes.

Instead we saw a young woman who clearly hasn’t adjusted to life as a wheelchair user yet; she struck me as still being quite raw and full of emotions that are still yet to be resolved. I’m loathe to make assumptions about someone I’ve only watched on television but I’m fairly certain she’s got pretty low self esteem, her own opinion of herself and her body were so harsh and negative it doesn’t require PHD in psychology to gather she’s neither confident nor positive.

I actually felt rather concerned about the emotional welfare of the woman herself; appearing in porn while clearly battling psychological issues is not the path to confidence and happiness. This woman has her entire life ahead of her, she is a bright, sparky young woman; she is totally independent, she is only paralysed from the waist down, not the neck down and that in itself is one hell of a gift. I hope she eventually realises this….

Anyway, what pissed me off is that rather than challenge stereotypes the programme has simply confirmed them.  There was too much focus on how miserable she is in the chair, the things that frustrate her, what she misses from her previous life and how much she thinks about walking because it’s easier to do things. (Do I spend time wishing I could walk? Honestly? Maybe a total of 90 minutes per YEAR.) All that does is confirm what able bodied people think life is like for a paraplegic.

So why does this piss me off so much? Because this programme will in some way inform how some people react to me and to other wheelchair users. I continuously strive to change attitudes towards disability but thanks to portrayals like this there will be people who will mistakenly assume that I’m bitter, aggressive, unhappy, sexually unsatisfied and physically unable to enjoy sex and I’ll have to spend time convincing them otherwise. Thanks for that.

The media has a large role to play in educating people about the realities of living with a disability and they are still falling short of that responsibility. It’s a depressing fact, but attitudes can be changed or confirmed based on television programmes.  What did the programme show that others haven’t? Nothing. It almost took a step backwards when considering the issue of wheelchair users dating each other; are we still so blinkered that people believe like must date like? Would I have dated a paraplegic before my accident? I don’t know, but I like to think that if I had met a guy that I liked, his wheelchair wouldn’t have been a deterrent. Would I date another wheelchair user now? No, but purely because it would be so impractical to have consider the logistics of 2 wheelchairs every time we went out. Have I fancied other guys in chairs? Yes, I’ve met good looking, funny, confident guys in chairs but the it’s the practicalities that deter me, not a prejudice against their physical disability. I felt disappointed that the choice to not date another wheelchair user was portrayed as based in prejudice when in reality it’s about more than that. There was a real opportunity to open people’s minds to the abilities of disabled people, to the normality, to the sexuality but I guess it was easier to conform to the stereotypes.

Posted in Body Image, Disability, Sex & Relationships, Television | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

The Undateables

Love it or hate it it’s coming back to our screens and the production team are looking for new people with disabilities to take centre stage. 

I know some of you felt quite strongly about it, that it was patronising, that is was the wrong approach or didn’t feature a disability relevant to you, (it’s impossible to represent all disabilities in one programme), but I felt that sometimes it was too easy to focus on the contributors with learning disabilities, it makes for a cute package that gives an audience a warm, fuzzy ‘aww’ feeling. 

I think the challenge is to explore the dating world of those with physical disabilities and the preconceived ideas some able bodied people have about dating someone with a disability; perhaps even change their own attitudes about dating a man or woman with a disability?

So rather than grumble about it why not apply? Be the funny, vivacious disabled man or woman that we all know isn’t featured on TV enough, show another side of disability! 

So if you’re single and looking to date why not let them do the ‘legwork’?

Contact Betty Productions: undateables@betty.co.uk

Or check out their Facebook page to find out more:

https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/The-Undateables/434923796521048 

And if you didn’t see it but want to, catch the last series here:

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-undateables/4od

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