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This post is about the Netflix movie, BirdBox. Don’t read this post if you hate spoilers, because it’s full of them!

My good friend came over the other day and we watched BirdBox together (pausing all the way through to make sure our kids weren’t watching, that they were playing nicely, for our own popcorn and arare refills and whatever else we needed to do to sneak in a grown-up movie with 5 kids in the house, ha!)

BirdBox has been getting all the hype currently available on social media. Netflix says 45 million of us have streamed it, and you know, that’s a lot of people (plus, some Kardashian loved it so that means another billion folk are likely waiting to watch as I type).

The Story

BirdBox is set in Northern California.

On a personal note, I was going in circles trying to figure out where they were exactly – it had references to Sacramento, Stockton, Sausalito and Santa Rosa. I looked it up though, and it was shot all over Northern California. I enjoyed how familiar the setting felt.

The story is based on novel, BirdBox, by Josh Malerman. It’s set right about now. In it, some presence comes to earth and causes most people who look at it to immediately want to commit suicide. Like, immediately: they see it, they kill themselves (no waiting around and tension built around that one; it’s totally direct).

It’s never clear what the presence is exactly – demons? Aliens? Who knows? It’s left pretty vague, and we never see it, but it does lean a little more on it being some kind of demonic entity of judgement.

Now, not everyone who sees it immediately commits suicide, nope; mentally ill people see it and then become it’s biggest devotees. They become fanatically obsessed with it and arguably “normal” people’s worst enemies as they then try to force “normal” people to look a it (“see how beautiful it is!”) and then of course, the “normal people” kill themselves after they are forced to see it.

In the movie, Malorie (played by Sandra Bullock) is a heavily pregnant woman who feels isolated and disconnected from other human beings. She winds up raising two kids – hers and the baby of another woman – with Tom (played by Trevante Rhodes from Moonlight). The story unfolds through time segment splicing – they go back and forth from the present on the river, to the past, which is when it all happened.

Everyone who Malorie started off with dies. Every one of them.

They all die.

Then she’s raising the two kids with Tom for 5 years, employing skills that blind parents have used forever.

They have a garden, they seem pretty self sufficient, but it’s apparently not enough and the houses around them that they raid for supplies have gradually dried out. (I guess all the canned stuff has reached their final expiration dates). Tom starts talking on the walkie talkie with some guy “down river” named Rick who invites them to float on down and join his spiffy community where everyone is alive.

Alarms go off for Malorie over the conversation, as Rick asked details that could potentially lead the mentally ill fanatic killer believers to them, or be a lure to the suicide-inducing presence.

But then Tom dies.

Before Tom died, however, he  made Malorie promise him that in the event of his demise, she’d go down the river and look for Rick and his community. She duly sets off with the kids after Tom dies, and that leads to the present moment of her on the river. We then experience the final chapter with her as she rows the boat (with her blindfold on) down the river and reaches Rick’s place, which is in a school for the blind.

Most of the inhabitants there are blind.

Deeper Meanings in BirdBox

Malorie has a difficult time connecting with other people. That’s clear from the beginning, and it only grows deeper as the threat of the presence continues.

She only calls her son, “boy” and the girl who she is also raising, “girl.” She refuses to give them names or call herself their mother.

The entire movie is not just about the presence and all the awfulness in that world; it’s about her personal journey to human connection. She grieves Tom’s loss, she pivots to learn to embrace the hope that was his. She names her children and she calls herself their mother.

I kept trying to understand the significance of the presence and the blindfolds, but it felt like too much of a stretch to say it’s a metaphor for something else. I ended up just taking it for its face value: it’s a presence that makes people want to not be alive anymore.

A Disability Perspective on BirdBox

This is the ultimate horror movie for a deaf person.

I mean, OH MY GOD: being blindfolded?!! Having to rely on our hearing?!! We would be so screwed!

I know this was the reason why I initially resisted watching it; I honestly can’t imagine anything scarier that that. A Quiet Place was great; us deaf would totally rock that world. I loved the beautiful cinematography in that movie, and the main scary piece there was how much we might forget and get loud about (- read my full review on the Netflix blog, linked here),

We would be completely vulnerable in the BirdBox world, and just thinking about the stress of trying to hear makes me feel anxiety.

Added to that, I took some umbrage over the continued perpetuation of the stigma of mental illness.

I mean, why do the people who are mentally ill see the presence and fall in love? Then, why do they have to be the ones going around like zombies, trying to make all the “normal” people “see the beauty” too? Give me a freaking break!

I have mental illnesses – yes, I have Complex Post Traumatic Disorder (C-PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). I’m pretty weary of how alike a tired trope this is becoming, this whole, hey! let’s lay the bad stuff on the people who are mentally ill! Again! Because it’s not enough to just blame them for every. freaking. thing. that goes wrong in everyday society!

If anything, I feel like those of us who do have a mental illness would be the ultimate warriors in a battle against some suicide-inducing presence. We are the ones who are so familiar with the dips and spins that can come from trauma, intense pressure and emotions. We have skills!

So, all of that was annoying to me.

What I’d love is to see a movie that plays on the aptitude, proficiency, artistry, intelligence and moxie that most of us with mental illnesses develop by dint of having to navigate this world using a brain that marches to the tune of our own drummer.

A Quiet Place showcases the deaf advantage. BirdBox showcases the blind advantage. Let’s have something that showcases the mentally ill advantage, hmm, shall we?

In Summary

I thought the cast was outstanding.

John Malkovich, Trevante Rhodes, and wow, Sandra Bullock at her finest! The acting was phenomenal.

I thought the story was great too: vague enough to really make it what you wanted, large gaps in understanding (like that canopy at the school for the blind…how did that keep the presence out?!) but enough that’s solid to make you take it kind of seriously.

No two ways around it though: this was a horror story for me. This movie has had me wake up for two nights in a row and lie awake, scared. I mean, I keep thinking about having to navigate the world while blindfolded, or having to rely on hearing and I break out in a cold sweat.

I am glad I watched it, but I prefer dystopian worlds where cochlear-implant wearing folk save the day and where knowing ASL saves your life.

Read about blind parenting in this fascinating post by Holly Bonner:

7 Truths About Blind Parenting Courtesy of Netflix’s Bird Box

I am a member of Netflix #DVDNation. This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are of course, my own. #ad

This post is about the movie, Loving Vincent, which I watched  through DVD Netflix. I am writing this as Netflix is celebrating 20 years of being in our lives (visit the Netflix 20th Anniversary Page for more!).

About Loving Vincent:

Loving Vincent is a movie about the last week of Vincent Van Gogh’s life. What makes the movie really unusual is that it is the first-ever feature film that was entirely painted. Each image in the movie is an actual painting, not CG, photograph, film or anything else. It’s all a painting.

It’s all a painting. 100 painters from all over the world created over 65,000 oil paintings which were what this movie was made from, and it took them over 6 years to do it. Intense, right?!

I was waiting for this movie to come out for a long time, because the idea of an entirely painting movie – and about Van Gogh to boot! – was really exciting to me. I loved the previews of it, a bunch of swirls and the super-brawny styles for which Van Gogh was famous. I felt like they were going to nail it.

loving vincentMy Review:

They did visually nail it. This movie – like Avatar – is incredibly visually stunning. It just pops out and bites you. But this movie – also like Avatar – falls flat with the story, dialogue and actual substance. It’s all looks.

I found myself nodding off mid-way through it. Alarmed (because I had waited so long to watch this! This was supposed to be really great!), I made myself some coffee, and was pretty sure the caffeine would keep me awake. But no – I started nodding off again, even with the boost.

Once you get over the paintings, or rather, get used to the paintings, you are left with a pretty boring story.

I think Loving Vincent falls flat – it’s a great watch for the visuals and the 65,000 paintings. I think it would probably have been better if it had been kept to a short instead of a feature film, and if just the subject of Van Gogh had been adhered to (rather than the whole spin off mystery thing). I couldn’t even finish it, it was that boring.

Want to check it out?

 

I am a member of Netflix #DVDNation. This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are of course, my own. #ad

This post is about the TV series, Switched at Birth, which I have been watching through DVD Netflix. I am writing this as Netflix is celebrating 20 years of being in our lives (visit the Netflix 20th Anniversary Page for more!).

About Switched at Birth:

Switched at Birth is a television series that came out in 2011 (all that juice is here on Wikipedia).Like the title indicates, it’s the story of two girls who were accidentally switched at the hospital, immediately after their respective births. Each baby went to the other’s biological family.

One of the babies contracted meningitis at age 3 and became deaf. That baby was raised by a single Latina mom who is a recovering alcoholic, The other baby (who was the Latina’s biological baby) was raised in a rich, privileged two-parent white midwestern home.

At age 16, the biologically Latina daughter learns the truth and everything goes from there: everyone learns the truth and the story unfolds.

switched at birthMy Review:

Being deaf, I had heard of Switched at Birth right after it came out. I heard it was good, but put it on my mental back burner because, hey, I had heard that Family Stone was “good” too, and ha! Remember that scene with Sarah Jessica Parker yelling at the brother? Yeah, well. I didn’t feel like going through a whole series with that kind of thing.

I guess I took 7 years for it to make its way to the front of my burner, because I finally watched it.

And holy cow. BLOWN. A-WAY.

I am absolutely astonished. I’ve never seen a tv show with so many REAL deaf people in it, with REAL ASL. I’ve never seen a story told from OUR perspective before; it’s always from the hearing perspective. When I first heard of this show, I simply assumed that the actors would be hearing and would be doing some shoddy-slow ASL, and it would be getting it all wrong. I mean, that’s how shows have always been for us, right?!

Right.

But Switched at Birth is different.

It’s really, really different. The actors are deaf. The signing is real.

I mean, this was a such a shock for me that some of the episodes have had me sobbing uncontrollably through them – like the one where Daphne’s mom is telling Bay’s mom why she should learn to sign. The conversations about lipreading, Daphne struggling to follow what’s going on in a group setting. All of those are things I don’t think about much on a day-to-day but definitely struggle with – and so somehow seeing it in a show makes me cry like a small child.

I don’t know why.

Anyway.

Switched at Birth is an amazing show. It’s broken new ground in terms of tv shows – I see now that it surely inspired Speechless and Born This Way – this whole new genre of tv that flies across the disability spectrum. It’s pretty fricken awesome.

Now, I’ve heard that the later seasons are not as good as the first couple of seasons. I’ll update this post on it all, but right where I am now – at the end of the first season – it’s incredible.

Want to check it out?

 

I am a member of Netflix #DVDNation. This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are of course, my own. #ad 

This post is about the movie, Wonder. There are a lot of spoilers in it!

Wonder is a movie about a kid with a facial difference. Evidently, his parents had the perfect storm of a genetic combination to create a kid who would have some pretty significantly different facial features. There might have also been health issues – that wasn’t clear to me.

I went through the windshield of a car when I was 4 years old. I grew up with a facial difference, with the scars lacing all over my face. “Scarface” and “Frankenstein’s wife” were names kids called me when I was little. Added to that, I’m a mom of a kid with a disability (Down syndrome). Since I knew this was a movie that I might be able to relate to on more than one personal levels,  I was a little apprehensive about watching it.

In fact, I was so apprehensive that I didn’t want to ,shell out Big Theatre Bucks to take my kids to see it when it came out, or even buy it (as I considered for a brief second). Instead, I waited for it to come out on Netflix DVD , and I’m glad I did. This is why:

  1. The kid is drenched in privilege

Everything about the main character, Auggie, is privileged. His family is rich, (like really  comfortable in that secure way that only rich people are) in a big house in Brooklyn, New York. His parents are married and still in love. They are all nice looking. He’s white. His sister is long-suffering but silent and all of them revolve around Auggie’s needs.

Auggie is hella smart, just oozing intellect. He’s socially with it as well (and how did that even happen? They made it like he was a hermit in some hut for his entire life before he went to school).

These factors are huge in their twining with his disability. Huge! 

The only issue the kid has AT ALL is his face: absolutely every other aspect of his life is pretty peachy. Most people don’t realize how important all of those other factors are and will instead attribute any success he has TO HIS FACE, which makes no sense. The kid does well because he’s smart, has a really supportive family that has extensive resources (financial and otherwise).

The message that sends to other kids with facial disfigurement is that they should be able to do great in school, just get through it, and they’ll get a posse of BFF’s, the respect of their peers and a freakin’ award for their great attitude at the end of the first year!

2. That Award…

That award is really problematic to me. It is just doubled dipped in a vat of Inspiration Porn – which, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, is when we with disabilities are regarded by people without disabilities as inspirational solely on the basis of our disability.

Auggie – the kid in Wonder – is really smart. He would deserve an award for his smarts. But instead, he’s honored for his attitude. Which is code for his face,  because what exactly was so award-winning about his attitude? Um… privileged new kid in school, makes friends, does well academically… has some ups and downs…. pretty normal, OH, EXCEPT FOR HIS DISFIGURED FACE! – so let’s give him an attitude award, to show we are really okay with his face!

 

facepalm

3. And About His Face…

wonder the movieAuggie was played by a kid without facial disfigurement, a kid without a disability. I am so in-utterably sick of our roles going to non-disabled folk, I’m fed up with this appropriation.

It’s like disability is the final frontier for actors: if you can act your way through disability, wow, you must be great. This annoys me because:

a) disability is culture, not just a way of being, seeing, speaking, moving, feeling, hearing.  This is actual cultural appropriation, it’s modern-day black-face.

b. there are levels and depths to the disability experience that NOONE who is able-bodied will be able to capture. You just can’t.

I thought the kid who played Auggie was whiny and annoying. His eyes were not particularly emotive. I’m going to lay money on a kid with an actual facial disfigurement doing a way better job – because that kid knows the actual pain that comes with multiple surgeries, with being a social outcast, knowing how it feels to be beaten up because you look different from how society tells us we should.

When I was watching Wonder, I kept feeling like I was watching a parody of Privilege playing Hardship and it rubbed me wrong.

The Only Thing I Liked About Wonder

Wonder was, overall, made for Inspiration Porn. It’s treacly and unbelievable – not much in it really added up and made sense or seemed probable. The only thing that I actually liked – the only thing that moved me – was Julia Roberts being Mom of Kid with a Disability (I know I’m supposed to say “Special Needs Mom” but I refuse to!). Where she’s really hoping and caring that he’s okay, that he’ll be all right, her anxiety over him.

As a mom of a kid with a disability, I get that. I really do. Lotsa feels there.

In Summary of the Movie

I disliked Wonder, I’m glad I didn’t buy it and I’m glad Netflix DVD allowed me to watch it – and send it right back (seriously: 20 years of being able to watch those DVD’s, chew them apart and return them: I love Netflix).

Wonder might have been better if it had showed complexities of real life. The movie “Mask” did that – with his mom’s tumultuous relationships, the motorcycle gang, etc. Wonder should have taken a page out of that set – it would have been a better movie had it been in a world that more people could relate to (like… public school, with an IEP, financially struggling parents who worry about his health coverage that’s about to get dumped by Trump).

As an adult who grew up with a facial disfigurement and as the mom of a kid with a disability, I really want more movies that don’t send out that “overcoming with a positive attitude” trope without regard to the privilege that is the genuine basis for the attitude (not the disability! it’s not the disability, guys!).

I want movies that echo my own experience of pain, struggle, loss, abuse, and empowerment. I want movies about disability intersections with characters who actually have a disability, and with themes that move far, far out of the tired tropes of Inspiration Porn.

How to Talk About the Movie “Wonder” with Your Kids:

My kids loved this movie. As noted above, I did not.

I did not want to throw a wet blanket all over their enthusiasm, but I did want them to be aware of some of the things happening in the film (namely, Auggie’s privilege, the Inspiration Porn and disability appropriation in movies). So I asked them questions. I should also note that my goal in asking these questions was just to get them thinking about this; not to prove a point:

  • do you think Auggie could have won that award because of his smarts?
  • his house was really big and he had lots of toys, yeah? how do you think that affected everything in his life?
  • would you think it’s okay for someone to act like they have Down syndrome in a movie or real life? do you think the character of Auggie should have been played by someone who really has a face like his?
  • do you think Auggie had a good life?
  • do you think his life was sad because of his face?
  • should you feel sorry for someone because their face isn’t how society says a face should look?
  • some of the kids in Wonder had faces like society says are great; do you think their lives were great because of it?

Choose Kind

The message of the movie is to “choose kind” – I really, really like this message, but I don’t like it tied to disability. We should all choose to be kind, because like attracts like: when we are kind, we draw kindness back to ourselves. When we are kind, we are expanding the kindness in our world – sharing causes it to grow.

Kindness attached to disability harkens of pity, and pity is the antithesis to disability empowerment and pride.

So, that’s another thing that I’m explicit with my kids about: you choose to be kind, full stop. It has nothing to do with disability, just like it has nothing to do with race or religion or whatever. It has to do with the conscious choices that you make as an individual that affect YOURSELF and YOUR LIFE.

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affiliate links to the book, movie and journal on Amazon:

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I am a member of Netflix #DVDNation. This post contains affiliate links. All opinions are of course, my own. #ad 

14 years ago, I lined up my first movie from Netflix. It was The Phantom of the Opera (2004) one of my all-time favorite movies. As a kid who grew up on the outside of things, and with scars splayed all over my face, I have always easily identified with the Phantom.

So, with 20th Anniversary special Netflix’s 20th Anniversary here, I wanted to watch something in the same vein. A love story, but one that I could identify with (which is never going to be something like Roman Holiday).

I chose The Shape of Water.

The Shape of Water

A 2017 movie by one of my favorite directors, Guillermo del Toro. The Shape of Water is a love story about a mute cleaning lady and a humanoid aquatic creature from the Amazon. So, you know, right there it bagged all the unrealism I crave!

I wanted to see the movie because, besides being by Guillermo del Toro and besides being a love story, it really pissed off a lot of people in the disability community. I wanted to see why it pissed off so many people.

The Setting

The movie is set in the ’60’s, between this awesome living space above a theatre (seriously, how cool would it be to live there?!) and a government experiment facility. Elisa is the mute main lady. Here is the trailer:

The Shape of Water: Trailer

This is clearly del Toro’s work, right? All the murky-dark weird artsy-ness that I love him for.

The story is about a mute cleaning lady, Elisa, whose two best friends are another cleaning lady (who is black, played by Octavia Spencer) and a man she is neighbors with (who is gay, played by Richard Jenkins). There you have it: the disabled, the black and the gay: the perfect trifecta of the outcast minorities without rights in the 1960’s!

The trio join forces to rescue the Amphibian Man from the experiment zone, because Elisa and Amphibian Man have somehow fallen in love. They accomplish their mission in a rad heist, then again when the “bad guy” catches up with them.

That’s all I’m going to tell you about the story – if you want more, see it for yourself! Let’s talk about the disability and other pieces now though. I think those are worth dissecting.

What Was Good About The Shape of Water

Some people were pissed off because Elisa felt like an outcast, less than a full-human. She falls in love with Amphibian Man because, she says, “does not know what I lack or how I am incomplete. He sees me, for what I am, as I am.”

This was criticized as meaning that the movie was a sending a message to us (disabled), telling us that we are not whole.

I didn’t get that message, personally. I felt like Elisa was clearly saying she didn’t feel complete or whole, and that she loved him for how he made her feel. I understand that, I can relate to that. I know for myself that feeling complete or proud of my physical self and my disabilities takes an act of consciousness. My own personal “overcoming” is always in overcoming what our culture has told me about myself; not in overcoming my disabilities themselves.

Feelings of Being Incomplete

I think there are a lot of people without disabilities that feel incomplete, and the role of love for feeling that vacuum is pretty common. It’s all over the place in Western popular culture: you meet “the one” who somehow fills this void inside and makes one “complete.” People say, “my better half,” because without that One, they are incomplete.

Am I right?

That being the case, I think one of the reasons why The Shape of Water was so compelling to non-disabled people was precisely because it speaks to that sense of the incomplete. With so many people without disabilities identifying with that, they connect to that message almost viscerally.

… About the Monster…

I  did not feel, as Kim Sauder suggests in her blog post that the movie connects us with monsters, or that The Shape of Water is suggesting that we should be hooking up with monsters.

I felt that the movie was painting a pretty clear picture that Strickland (the “bad guy”) was the real monster in this piece, and that through otherness, we can find affinity.

I agree with that completely. There is a strong thread of understanding that laces us all in marginalized, discriminated, oppressed communities. We’ve walked in similar shoes and we understand what it feels like to have stones thrown at you because of something you do not have control over (be it the way you walk, the color of your skin, physical difference, sexual orientation or whatever else).

I also really liked how sexual Elisa was. I thought that was pretty radical, to be honest: WOW, a sexual mute leading lady?! I’ve never seen such a thing! I’m so used to disability being portrayed at sexless and ugly; her beautiful body and the sexuality of her body was, I thought, a powerful statement.

the shape of water disability and deaf experienceWhat Was Bad

Elisa was played by a hearing, speaking woman who studied ASL for this role. Sigh. PUH-LEEEEEEZE. I’m so sick of non-disabled people taking on disabled roles! And don’t give me any of that malarkey about how the role would need to hear or whatever; this was a role that a d/Deaf person should have had; not a hearing, speaking person (it’s funny for me to write that actually, because the ASL sign for “hearing” looks like “speaking”).

NO: I’m done with it. No more excuses, yo.

Nyle DiMarco showed you all how a Deaf man can dance flawlessly on Dancing With the Stars; let more from our community show you how we can flawlessly imitate a hearing person while we express ourselves in OUR OWN LANGUAGE.

 

To be clear: sure, the actress who played Elisa (Sally Hawkins) did a great job. She is dyslexic but does not identify as a person with a  disability. She worked hard to learn the ASL for this movie, and she learned her words well.

But it is not okay for these roles to be going to people outside of the communities that they represent. “Blackface” would be unthinkable now. Unfortunately, this hasn’t carried over to the disability spectrum and that needs to stop.

What Was Compelling About The Shape of Water

Themes of otherness, incomplete hearts being fulfilled by love, vulnerability and tenderness were what I think made this movie compelling to audiences. Guillermo Del Toro wielded his expert artistic flair through the film, creating captivating, stunning imagery, evocative sets and costumes. It was gorgeous, and gorgeous is compelling.

This movie did not make me go, “a-ha!”, it didn’t make me think of things in a new way. It was just an interesting story with superb visuals. That might be, in and of itself a reason for some people to watch it, and if so, I hope you love it.

other alternative love stories:

I can’t imagine anyone not being a member of Netflix already, but if you aren’t, you can get a trial month for free  here, at the 20th Anniversary special. Lots of fun movie stuff going on there too (quizzes, prizes, etc).

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Flying Solo is a new documentary about about 3 people with Down syndrome embarking on a quest to become independent. It will be released on March 21st – World Down Syndrome Day – on Amazon Prime.

Here’s the (uncaptioned) trailer (the director says the full movie is captioned though):

Flying Solo

Flying Solo follows the 3 individuals with Down syndrome over the course of four years as they pursue their dreams.

According to the press release,

“Flying Solo follows Digby, Tracie and their friend and aspiring actor Tom, 36, over the course of four years as they pursue their new lives, juggling their passions with new responsibilities.

Digby tackles fundamental skills such as money management and cooking, even undertaking a new job as he prepares for his latest exhibition.

Meanwhile Tracie takes Tom under her wing and train him as an actor.

But for Tom – now living on his own – pursuing his dreams proves an uphill battle as he finds himself struggling with time-management, household chores and depression.

The film, made in close collaboration with the subjects, captures their hopes and the hurdles they – like many people with intellectual disabilities – hit along the way.

It features frank discussions about disability by the subjects and their friends and families, as well as inspirational scenes of mentorship and friendship.

A social impact film, Flying Solo pulls back the curtain on the unexpected strengths of disability, revealing the unique contributions people with conditions like Down syndrome can make to society.

It also aims to inspire change around a chronic lack of access to supported accommodation, which maximizes independence for people with disabilities.

“People with disabilities need to be heard,” Digby Webster said.

“I hope the film will show people a different kind of world and also help create a more open and inclusive community.”

Sounds like a winner, and we can’t wait to watch it! Look for it on Amazon Prime, starting the 21st of March.

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