Victims and victors: Representation of physical disability on the silver screen.


Journal Article


Black, R. S. & Pretes, L.


The portrayal of individuals with physical disabilities in feature films contributes to society's overall perception of disability (Nelson, 1994; Susman, 1994). Therefore, the purpose of this study was to analyze 18 films, produced between 1975 and 2004, that had a main character with a physical disability. Our analysis included specific themes and stereotypes identified by the research literature. The themes examined were (a) overall personality, (b) community integration, and (c) interpersonal relationships. The stereotypes examined were (a) pitiable and pathetic; (b) supercrip; (c) sinister, evil, and criminal; (d) better-off dead; (e) maladjusted-own worst enemy; (f) burden to family/society; and (g) unable to live a successful life (Biklen & Bogdan, 1977; Nelson, 1994). Most of the films developed the personality of the character with a disability. Healthy interpersonal relationships were portrayed in some of the films; however, on-going intimate relationships were rarely portrayed. Many of the movies portrayed integrated community life, but integrated education and employment opportunities were noticeably lacking. The most common stereotype portrayed in the films was maladjusted–own worst enemy; the two least common stereotypes were pitiable and pathetic, and sinister, evil and criminal. In some areas, filmmakers have made progress in dispelling myths and stereotypes described in the literature (e.g., dangerous monster, pitiable victim). In other areas, filmmakers continue to perpetuate damaging images (e.g., asexual beings, incapable of competitive employment or postsecondary education, who as a result of their inability to cope with the disability engage in self-destructive behaviors).


Black, R. S., & Pretes, L. (2007). Victims and victors: Representation of physical disability on the silver screen. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 32(1), 66–83.