On June 27th, we celebrate Helen Keller Day, the birthdate of one of the most astounding people to ever work within her challenging circumstances. In her honor, and in honor of all those who experience life with different abilities, we recommend these inspiring examples of disability in film.
Based on Helen Keller’s young life, The Miracle Worker (1962) focuses on how Keller learned to communicate despite being left deaf and blind due to the ravages of scarlet fever. This Academy Award-winning film is a powerful story of how a frustrated girl and her tireless teacher, Annie Sullivan, find ways to communicate without speech or visual cues.
Eventually, the great Helen Keller will go on to become a best-selling author, a co-founder of the ACLU, founder and activist with the American Foundation for the Blind, and a person with a deep, loving understanding of human nature.
Directed by Oscar-winning Arthur Penn (who also directed Night Moves, Bonnie and Clyde, and The Chase), The Miracle Worker is a powerful film based on two incredible women and their powerful true story.
Ray Charles, the great pioneer of soul music, went blind at seven years old. The winner of 17 Grammys, he accomplished things that most musicians only dream of, and was awarded the Helen Keller Achievement Award for his notable achievements.
The film Ray (2004), starring Jamie Foxx in the title role, received critical acclaim by reviewers and moviegoers alike. Foxx was so dedicated in this Academy Award-winning role that he went through his 14 hour days with prosthetics in his eyes to recreate what blindness might have been like for Mr. Charles.
The film intimately delves into the sometimes convoluted life of Ray Charles. It’s a movie of persevering through not only disability, but the tumultuous ongoings of life.
This 1989 film is based on the autobiography of Christy Brown, an Irish writer and painter who was born with cerebral palsy, and who learned to miraculously control his left foot enough to create masterpieces.
Daniel Day Lewis, the famous method actor who brought Lincoln to life, won several awards (including an Oscar) for his portrayal of life with the severe physical and speech impairments that come with cerebral palsy.
According to the late Roger Ebert, “The story of Christy Brown is one of the great stories of human courage and determination. He belongs on the same list as Helen Keller.”
We agree with Ebert that My Left Foot is a powerful movie that may leave you wondering why your left foot isn’t more talented.
Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture, Children of a Lesser God (1986) is one of the first films to take a close look at the deaf community.
While the film touches on the romance between Sarah Norman and James Leed, the deeper message is that those who are deaf should communicate on their own terms. The film also makes strides by hiring a deaf actress, Marlee Matlin, to play one of the leading roles.
Matlin went on to win an Academy Award for Best Actress in this role, and is the only deaf actress to have won an Academy Award as yet. She has gone on to star in The L Word, The West Wing, and Reasonable Doubts.
Love and human connection can come in a variety of forms. And for Mark O’Brien, played by John Hawkes, love came to him through unconventional—but no less significant—means.
The Sessions (2012) follows the real life story of a man who uses an iron lung to breathe due to the effects of polio, and who wants to explore the possibility of experiencing sexuality through a sex surrogate. Cheryl, the surrogate, is masterfully played by Helen Hunt. She helps guide O’Brien through this experience with grace and understanding.
The Sessions is based on Mark O’Brien’s 1990 essay, "On Seeing a Sex Surrogate", which appeared in Sun magazine. O’Brien, who passed away in 1999, was an accomplished journalist, poet, UC graduate, and advocate for the disabled.
In the end, it’s a movie about kindness and understanding that should be in your queue.