I noticed him immediately. First, as always, the shock of recognition, of kinship. Second, the recognition that he's only there because this is real life. OK, let me explain. We went to see "The Music of Strangers: Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble" with Ruby and Sadie. We had explained carefully that this was a documentary, not a regular style movie. We watched the trailer together. Both girls agreed to give it a try. Informed decision making is a part of how we negotiate our time together.
We landed in our seats in a completely empty theatre, we were all a little disappointed that another couple came just at the time it was starting. We'd looked forward to being alone and talking about the movie as it happened like we do with some television shows, now we had to be hushed and quiet. Oh well.
Very near the beginning, the camera was panning around a square in some country some where, Sadie leaned over and whispered to me, "This is real, right?" I told her it was. Then. I saw that it was. It was real. Because there, in the middle of the square, selling some kind of drink on a small table, was a guy with a disability. He was there for the briefest of seconds, but he was there.
He was there because people with disabilities are there. Are out in the world. Are doing business. Are crossing intersections. Are walking along chatting with friends. Are on the corner asking for change. Are in business suits grabbing lunch. I get all these examples from an experiment I tried after the movie was over. I counted people with disabilities on a two block stretch near Yonge and Dundas, which has been called Canada's busiest intersection. We're there.
Now, back to the movie theatre, back to the movie. As I said, I had this shock of recognition, this memory that we existed, this sense of kinship ... followed by Sadie's question. "This is real, right?" Yes. it's real. She was refering to the whole scene. I'm refering to him being there.
Do you know how long it's been since I've seen a person with a disability in a crowd scene, just being there in a movie movie, not a documentary like this one? I can't remember the last time. I've seen several movies lately, all of whom had crowd scenes and street scapes, some of them had lots of both of them. But not a person with a disability to be seen.
There's lots of talk about diversity in film and an important study is often mentioned. But you will notice that that study, as important as it may be, doesn't look at disability at all. A study on diversity in film is as exclusionary as the industry it intends to expose. How could disability NOT be part of a study about Hollywood representation? How? Well, the erasure of people with disability from any kind of narrative about diversity isn't uncommon. Diversity and Disability seem to be considered two different things. Diversity is presented as a strength and as if there is an imperative to broaden the narrative. Disability is presented, most often as needing the gift of inclusion. I don't want a gift, I want the recognition that we have voices, stories and perspectives that enrich and that the telling of those stories is part of our birthright. Disability doesn't exist so non-disabled writers can slaughter us for tears or sacrifice us to a larger plotline. We can be the plot. We can be the person in the crowd. We just need to be there.
It took a documentary shot of an 'it's real right?' scene of a busy square to finally see a person with a disability exactly where he should be, just there. I want more of that. We are there. We should be there.
We. Should. Be. There.