A shift in depictions of disability
Before directing the new film Breathe, about a paralyzed polio survivor who chooses to live outside of the hospital system in the 1950s, Andy Serkis was familiar with the lives of those with disabilities.
His sister has multiple sclerosis and is wheelchair-bound, and his mother taught disabled children, so Serkis grew up seeing many patients with polio, spina bifida and other conditions. Serkis also co-founded The Imaginarium Studios with Jonathan Cavendish, whose father was the polio sufferer portrayed by Andrew Garfield in Breathe, now in theatres.
“So there were many reasons for wanting to make this film,” said Serkis.
“This film was about looking at the difference in attitude towards being disabled in 2017 and in the 1950s, when they were considered ‘other,’ basically. They were considered to be kept out of sight and out of mind and kept comfortable but with no possibility of becoming a normal part of the human race, no sense of equality.”
Breathe is one of several new or upcoming films featuring characters with disabilities. Other examples include Stronger, Downsizing, Wonderstruck, Never Steady, and Never Still.
“I think there is more interest in stories about and by people with disabilities,” said Liviya Mendelsohn, artistic director of the Reelabilities Toronto Film Festival, which features projects by and about those who are deaf and disabled.
in stronger, Jake Gyllenhaal plays real-life Jeff Bauman, who lost his legs below the knee in the Boston Marathon bombing.