Quarantined? Use Your Screentime to Learn about a Health Revolution

5 Apr

 

Blogging for the first time in half a year has me starting up again in a brave new world. COVID-19 has brought most of us indoors and gone on to show that a worldwide, nearly universal phenomenon results in a profound diversity of experiences. More on that soon.

For now, I urge anyone with the time and a Netflix account to watch Crip Camp, a documentary about some of the founders of the modern disability rights movement in the U.S. that is on par with anything Ken Burns or Tavis Smiley has shown you. The film starts at Camp Jened, a Catskills retreat that slowly evolved into a community run by hippies fiercely dedicated to understanding the adolescent campers and recognizing their agency. Many of those campers went on to be central figures in the national fight for equality – from issues of accessibility to sexuality. (Irony of ironies, the word “quarantine” is uttered at a particularly giggly moment.) In true American fashion, adult topics and language have landed the film an R rating, which is unfortunate because it should be shown in high schools across the country. Everyone with the faintest interest in history needs to know what the ADA and Willowbrook were.

I have written before about the failure of many progressive circles to embrace disability rights with any meaningful sincerity. Despite dedicating themselves to challenging harmful stereotypes, progressives too often hail youth as an ideal, which can lead to overvaluing independence and physical strength. Crip Camp shows that not all radicals need fall victim to such narrow-thinking. Will self-proclaimed conservatives like the film? I can’t say, but the fact that Barack and Michelle Obama are the executive producers will surely attract as many viewers as it repels.

I only cried once, but for a long time: at the line “If it takes me all night!” It’s uttered by a kid in Washington, D.C. in 1990, and he could easily have been one of the kids I lived with at a rehabilitation center in that era. If you’re at all familiar with this blog, you know I was born with dwarfism and I have always been profoundly aware of that fact. But I had never considered myself disabled until I used a wheelchair and lived with other kids representing a rainbow of diagnoses for nearly half a year. I was a pre-teen then. The institution was primarily pediatric and thus not nearly as fun as Camp Jened appears. Barney the Dinosaur was the only artist whose record played on a loop, not Bob Dylan. But there was community and there were some very good caregivers. Crip Camp shows what a difference can be made by having a great community and excellent caregivers who are ready to fight for the right to self-actualize and become no longer a cute kid but a full-fledged citizen with a voice.

The film is brutally honest, but also a story of success, and so in the time of the coronavirus it can serve as both a salve and a wake-up call. One movement leader speaks of the hard truth that a world that ignores disabled people’s rights ultimately condemns them to go away and die. The very same truth holds for decision-makers whose actions imply that those most at risk of dying from the coronavirus are expendable. As filmmaker Nicole Newnton told Slate, “This health crisis is impacting people who are vulnerable, and this film shows how a lot of that vulnerability is systemic. We want people to see that it is possible to change things and make the world a better place for everyone. This film shows that a small committed group of people can make a huge difference. We need to ask ourselves, when this is over, how will we rebuild the society that we want to see?”

 

One Response to “Quarantined? Use Your Screentime to Learn about a Health Revolution”

  1. thenorthwalescritic April 5, 2020 at 12:16 pm #

    Good read for a powerful subject. In regarding social adversity, this could be of interest.
    https://monthlycritic.wordpress.com/2020/03/30/system-crasher/ My latest (and best) review if you fancy reading. Compulsive viewing.

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