Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

You are here

Midterm: Watch and Learn

laurentanel's picture

Hey guys!

Attached is my midterm on portrayal of disability in film. I have created a short video (about 4 minutes) and an accompanying written analysis.

Unfortunately, because I do not have access to optimal editing software (that I was planning on using at Haverford), the video is not as clean as I would like it to be. Having made do with what is available at home, though, I hope you all enjoy and are prompted to think about cinema in a different light.

Best wishes,


Please let me know if there is any trouble viewing!

File analysis.docx24.02 KB


ncordon's picture

I was super excited about your idea to investigate the portrayal of disability in film because my all-time favorite movie is Forest Gump. Growing up, I did not think of the protagonist as physically or intellectually disabled. Forest's slowness was endearing and funny to me and my brothers who made jokes about the film and quoted his "life is like a box of chocolate" speech. We compared him to Rocky Balboa's character because seemed a little less smart than the average person but never in an "atypical" sense. The point that you and Blaser is really important; Forest was the type of disabled person that I wanted to like– white, good-looking, male, etc.  I never thought about that before, but if I were to replace the character with one that is less attractive to me or of lower socioeconomic status, the film would lose some of its magic. Obviously, I don't think that now. But as a eight-year-old watching the movie with my parents, it was important that Forest fit the "all-American" stereotype because it made the film more relatable/comfortable to watch than if the character was from a marginalized background.  On one hand, I completely agree that Forest's squeaky clean depiction is problematic because it does not represent the diversity of people who hold various disabled identities. But on the other hand, when introducing a child to neurodivergence, it might be important that we do it in an appealing, "safe" way. As time goes on, it is important to show the diversity, but perhaps a "neat, young straight, white American male" (Blaser) is who we need to get the conversation going. 

cds4's picture

Lauren I absolutely loved this film and analization! I was particularly struck by the last question you ask at the end of your written interpretation, 'how is this film serving the disabled community'. In all of the pieces you incorporated in your film, some steryotype regarded disability is being perpetuted, so in many ways, these films are dehumanizing individuals with disabilities. At the same time though, it's so hard to ignore the effect that just having a film with disability depiction has. So rarely is any conversation regarding disability presented in media, so is just having these films, even if they do a poor job of portraying disability, in some way serving the disability community? I would argue no however, I'm also in a position where I don't know what it's like to not be represented by the media. I feel like a similar approach can be taken towards reality tv shows that follow individuals with disabilities. To me, a lot of these shows feel objectifiying and hurtful in that they associate disability with the petty drama that is existent on all reality tv shows. However, when I explored the issue more thouroglh online, I found that a lot of individuals with disabilities really appreciated the shows because they were giving at least some representation, even though the watchers admited that it can be a negative one at times. I really don't know how to untangle depiction from discrimination when it comes to media, I wonder if there really is a way the two can ever be separated. 

I was thinking a lot about your discussion on how the film makers display characters in the movies reacting to disability, and what that means for how the film makers want the real audience to react. My first reaction is to judge the film makers for not providing an analysis of disability in the movie so as to better educate the audience, in stead of letting them interpret for themselves. For instance, why was there not a conversation on what flapping means to individuals with autism in 'Whats Eating Gilbert Grape?' instead of just showing other characters discouraging Gilbert. But would providing that explanation and dialough cheapin the art? Is there something being lost by telling the audience how they should view disability, instead of trying to let them infer it? Does death of the author apply to films?