I recently watched the film, Peanut Butter Falcon and have a few thoughts on it.
On one hand, it was refreshing to see a Hollywood film about a person with disabilities and for the protagonist to actually be played by a man with Down’s Syndrome – rather than Rain Man or Forrest Gump, for example. Despite these films being “heartwarming”, they are problematic because they don’t truly represent the lives and experiences of people living with learning difficulties.
Moreover, I think the film could do more to challenge beliefs about people with disabilities. At times, there are scenes where there is more interest shown in the love-interest between Shia LeBouf and Dakota Johnson, rather than the protagonist. The young man, Zak Gottsagen, is portrayed as “vulnerable”, diluting the fact that he is a capable human being, with hopes, dreams and potential.
In my own work with young people with learning difficulties, they have certainly taught me more than I’m sure I ever taught them. Often, I think we can fall into the trap of believing we are “helping”, when in fact we are limiting others (which to be fair, is shown quite well in the film).
When we put people into boxes and categorise them as a certain thing, we fail to recognise their dignity and potential.
This is demonstrated in the horrendous Abortion Laws we still have in the UK, which allow for pregnancies to be terminated up until birth on the grounds of certain disabilities. According to some research, it’s thought that the number of abortions on the grounds of disability have been wrongly recorded and are in fact, a lot higher than the 618 which were officially recorded in 2018.
Down’s Syndrome, I believe, is not a life-limiting condition. People with Down’s can still lead lives society considers “normal”. It’s about changing culture – attitudes and ignorance through learning and listening.
What do you think? Have you seen the film? If not, I would certainly recommend it.