People with disabilities and people who have nothing to do with them live in two different worlds. ZieZo Foundation aims to change this in the Netherlands and Belgium. The Heroes, Victims and Villains programme, with movies and documentary films, will question the way in which people with disabilities are portrayed. The programme uses the power of images to raise awareness and change attitudes and behaviour. In this way, the films contribute to creating a better society.
We maken geen onderscheid tussen de verschillende vormen van beperking. Het gaat ons om de participatie, niet om de soort beperking (fysiek, mentaal of een combi ervan).
The Heroes, Victims and Villains programme aims to:
• question the way in which people with disabilities are portrayed;
• give insight into the role the media (movies, documentaries, commercials) play in the public perception of people with disabilities;
• stimulate changes in the portrayal of people with disabilities in the media.
The Heroes, Victims and Villains programme aims to:
• develop an interest in people with disabilities among the general public;
• develop respect for people with disabilities, and to make people see them as valuable and complete people;
• increase the acceptance of people with disabilities and their full participation in society, including studying and having a job.
‘People with disabilities’ are people with physical and/or intellectual disabilities. One out of eight people in The Netherlands lives with a long-term disability, according to the College of Human Rights (2014). The media pay relatively little attention to people with disabilities. And if they do, they often present stereotypes. People with disabilities only appear in talk shows when their disability is the topic of conversation. People with disabilities rarely appear in the media as ‘ordinary’ members of society.
In The Netherlands, the current government policies promote the participation of all people in society, whether they have a disability or not. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has the same focus. The majority of countries, inside and outside Europe, have ratified this convention. Belgium approved in 2006. The Netherlands have not yet ratified the convention, but intends to do this before the end of 2015.
It takes great effort to create an inclusive society – a society in which everybody participates and everybody counts. To realise this, new laws need to be in place, for example the Equality Act, and the public’s perception of people with disabilities needs to change. A more realistic image of all members of our society in the media and in films is required, to build a society in which people show respect for one another.
The role of films in creating images
The public perception of people with disabilities also determines the way in which people approach them and to what extent they are respected. Movies and documentary films featuring people with disabilities greatly influence the public perception of them. But are they realistic? Realistic portrayals of people with disabilities in the media will positively contribute to the empowerment of this group.
“‘The absence of images – of examples, of representations – causes a cultural void that makes it even more difficult to imagine how your own situation will be, and therefore: how you should carry on, how you can carry on, and how you can be and live your life. […] This cultural void is key. Because of this, you feel alone, and it underlines your deviation, your abnormality. Because of this, you can hardly avoid other people’s stereotypes, and you can hardly focus on what you can still do and what you want to do. Because of this, it is more difficult to discover how you feel, who you are and what you are. First, you need to defeat your own fears and prejudices, as well as those of the people in your inner circle – you have to do this without cultural examples and social images that support you.’ Karin Spaink, ‘Beeldenstorm’ (column), 2010
A number of movies feature people with disabilities. Movies such as Rain Man, Yo Tambièn en Les Intouchables positively changed the public perception of people with disabilities. People with disabilities often have specific roles in movies: a hero, a victim or a villain. Certain disabilities are more popular than others, such as autism, Down syndrome and deafness, also because they are relatively easy to play and actors with these disabilities are available. People with disabilities rarely play a ‘normal’ character. However, it is interesting that people with disabilities are more often than before casted as ‘ordinary’ people in TV series. For example, in the celebrated series Breaking Bad, actor RJ Mitte plays a man who happens to have a disability (he is spastic). It is interesting that the actor has the disability himself.
‘But a disability is not what people perceive as a disability. It’s knowledge, it’s growth, it’s a way to challenge who you are and what you stand for. The thing about disability which most people don’t realize, is that everyone is disabled, everyone – I don’t care who you are – you included. You have challenges, and challenges are a disability; you have something affecting who you are and what you’re trying to do. That is a disability, people just don’t want to be labelled as disabled. It’s the same for people with a “disability”. We need to change that way of thinking. Disability doesn’t care who you are, what colour you are, where you’re from, who you represent or what you stand for. Everyone in one way or another is affected by a disability. We need to remind people how normal and how human it is.’ RJ Mitte, actor in Breaking Bad (he is spastic)
Documentary films shed different light on the issue. Examples from The Netherlands are Blind Child (1964), I never want to be famous (2010), I’ll take you along (2014), and The Best for Kees (2014). In documentary films, disabilities do not need to be ‘played’, which is why more of them can be made. In The Netherlands, such films are usually broadcasted on television, due to the film funding system. Moreover, these documentaries are often used as information materials for professionals, such as health care workers, and for students. Organisations for people with disabilities show the films as well.
Our programme Heroes, Victims and Villains
People with disabilities and people who have nothing to do with them live in two different worlds. Wuth Heroes, Victims & Villains we aim to change this in the Netherlands and Belgium.The programme, with movies and documentary films, will question the way in which people with disabilities are portrayed. The programme uses the power of images to raise awareness and change attitudes and behaviour. In this way, the films contribute to creating a better society.