My interest in seeing this film had to do with seeing the work of first time actor David DeSanctis, who I had heard was fantastic.
I have seen a few Bible thumping films and honestly I was expecting the worst but hoping for the best. I think the film was somewhere in between.
Was it a perfect film? No, is there such a thing? No. Could it have been better? Yes, I still don't know how the relationship with Milt and his wife actually got to the point it did and how we as an audience were supposed to know his buddy was having an affair with her.
I liked this film because it gave us who are inside this Down syndrome (Ds),
club a look inside the mind of someone who really is ignorant of what it means to live with Ds. Perhaps we could look at this as the writer holding up the mirror and saying this is what you are putting out there.
I believe we, people who live with and people who love and advocate for Ds, should examine this film like we examine our own body in the mirror. Make a list of what we don't like about it, the generalities, the stereotypical cliche moments and ask ourselves why this portrayal is still the image a person who has no connection to Ds believes to be the norm.
After the screening there was a Q&A with the Writer/Director, the Actor who portrayed Colt and the Composer. They were all asked the question if their views and ideas of Ds had been changed from working with David De Sanctis. The answer was 100% yes.
Why are we asking this question? Are we perpetuating a generalization of people with Ds? Why do we assume a person with Ds will change everyone they meet? Isn't this a lot of pressure to put on everyone, but especially the person with Ds?
Considering David was cast in the role as a symbol of child like faith, I found it significant none of the panel members described any type of spiritual change from meeting and working closely with a person with Ds.
I would call this a win in blowing up stereotypes...in these 3 people. Did this translate to the screen? I'm not so sure.
We could scoff at the writer for thinking automatically of a person with Ds as one who has this inbred capability or we could ask ourselves why he felt this way? What type of inspirational messages are we giving out as parents and advocacy organizations? Are we furthering the stereotype that people with Ds are some type of angel or messenger from God.
Another question asked was something to the lines of this, "we as parents strive to see our kids with Ds grow up, be included, get a meaningful job and live independently, but as a writer why did you write this life for Produce?"
The director explained, he just did, he assumed this is what would be the case. The woman asking the question persisted, "but how did YOU know this, I mean WE all know this but how did YOU know? "
This was very insightful to me. He didn't know. He didn't know most people, including many in our club, assume and presume people with Ds will never really be capable of true independence. Again, why do we feel this, and honestly if we want to really advocate, why should it matter? What are the messages we are sending to those not connected to Ds?
I want to believe we are in a great time of possible change in how we view people with intellectual differences. I believe we all, club members included, can use this film to motivate true change in the acceptance of people with Ds.
Perhaps the writer was showing us what our awareness campaigns have actually accomplished. We might have made people somewhat aware of Ds, but have we achieved inclusion or respect? This writer explained he took a chance to make a film that actually fully included a person with Ds.
My biggest takeaway from the night was when the writer said honestly,
"I still don't know much about Ds but I do know more about David. "
Isn't this what we want?! Isn't this the definition of inclusion?
The screening I participated in was packed full of people who have Ds or were connected by blood or friendship to a person with Ds. Twice in the screening the audience broke out into spontaneous applause. Both times were when the character schooled someone on the use of the R word. What is evident to me is that we are fed up with the word, a symbol of disrespect.
We want more than just lip service in a show or film that is mainly populated by viewers who already 'get it' . I am happy the entire crew signed a pledge not to use the word but I am not satisfied this message has crossed over. I am not satisfied our advocacy organizations have done all they can to end the word as a slur.
Seeing this film with a group of like minded individuals was a great experience.
I felt safe among these people and I felt empowered. I believe we need to feel safe and empowered in order to expect respect. We need each other to hold one another up and empower each other. We need to come together and that should start at the top, our national advocates should work together and demand respect and inclusion.
How we can expect a writer who knows nothing about Ds to flip his script when we ourselves need to rewrite our own. We need to stop the generalizations from within our own language, we need to respect the past but forge into a better future. There are subtle ways every one of us can do our part in changing perceptions.
When we hear a new mom repeat a generalization, educate her with grace and encourage her with respect for the individuality of Ds and all its diversity. When we hear an older mom talk about her adult with Ds in a child like way or state mistruths from her generation, gently educate her with grace and encourage her with respect for the individuality of Ds and all its diversity.
Experienced parents (myself), need to stop talking so much and start listening more. The world is a different place for babies born today with Ds. We need to embrace this change and use it to move our advocacy into one of acceptance and true equality.
I am encouraging you to go see Where Hope Grows and let the film motivate you to become a watchdog for change within our advocacy organizations and ourselves.
We don't have to hang our hats on this film as the say everything we want said film. Let's use this film as a springboard for a dialogue. A dialogue for a significant change towards real respect and equality for people with Ds.