Fresh off some big Golden Globes wins, “Million Dollar Baby” seems poised for Oscar success...but not everyone is pleased with the boxing flick-cum-snuff film. If you haven't already seen the movie, be warned: The surprise ending is revealed in the next paragraph.
Hilary Swank goes from trailer trash to number one contender in the first two-thirds of the film. Her relationship with her trainer (Eastwood) and her drive to succeed makes this part of the film enjoyable for anyone who happens to like boxing parables (as I do). Then it all changes. Swank gets her title shot and ends up paralyzed. After a long, horribly drawn-out series of hospital scenes, she convinces Clint (star, director, producer, and he even wrote the damn score) to disconnect her breathing tube. Clint, of course, obliges.
“This movie is a corny, melodramatic assault on people with disabilities,” writes Steve Drake in The Ragged Edge. “It plays out killing as a romantic fantasy and gives emotional life to the ‘better dead than disabled’ mindset lurking in the heart of the typical (read: non-disabled) audience member.”
It will likely come as a bit of shock to those unfamiliar with the disability rights movement, but not every disabled person would rather be dead (or even non-disabled). Dead people, you see, can't fight the power and raise hell. Thanks to activists from Lizzie Jennings to Rosa Parks, African-Americans can not only get on the bus, they can sit anywhere they damn please. “Folks with disabilities,” says Lucy Gwin, founder and editor of Mouth Magazine, “still can't get on the bus.”
And here's a newsflash to those who think Christopher Reeve represented the disability rights movement: The crips weren't impressed with Superman's search for a cure -- in fact, they’re not pacified by Jerry Lewis’ telethons or legislature that honored more in the breech, and they want freedom for the two million Americans imprisoned in nursing homes against their will. Now. Those are among the many reasons Gwin started Mouth and, as she puts it, “lowered the level of discourse on the subject of the helping system.” As the crip mantra goes: “Nothing about us, without us.”
“Mouth brings the conversation down to street level, where well-intentioned ‘special’ programs wreak havoc in the lives of ordinary people,” Gwin says. “People talk about calling a spade a spade. We call Jack Kevorkian a serial killer. And when maggots outnumber nurses’ aides at what others call a ‘care facility,’ we call it a hellhole. We say it out loud: if special education is so darned special, every kid in every school ought to have the benefit of it.”
And don't get her started on the topic of mercy killing...or assisted suicide or whatever they're calling it these days. “Look at it this way: there are 53 million people with disabilities in the USA alone,” Gwin states. “If we were so desperate to die, we'd be dropping off high buildings, hitting the pavement like rain. You'd have to climb over heaps of dead cripples to get to the bus stop in the morning.”
Another area of vexation is the lack of support from and/or the inability to “get it” within progressive circles. From the movement's early days-the League of the Physically Handicapped was formed in New York City in May 1935-right up to the current debates on Social Security and “right to die” issues, the Left has typically missed the opportunity to work collectively with those waging a crucial human rights battle.
“Disabled peoples movements have much to add to the civilizing movements of the last three decades-the Civil Rights Movement, the women's movement and the gay and lesbian movement,” says Marta Russell, author of Beyond Ramps: Disability at the End of the Social Contract. “It is disheartening, to say the least, when I can still pick up a book or read a call for unity to fight for social justice which omits or does not give equal weight to the disability social movement against oppression.”
Speaking of oppression, let's get back to Clint: It might be possible to chalk up his ignorance and insensitivity as being no better or worse than the average America...but his record vis-à-vis disability rights speaks for itself. In May 2000, Eastwood testified before a House Subcommittee on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Notification Act, a bill to prohibit individuals from bringing lawsuits to enforce Title III of the ADA without first providing notice of the alleged violation to the defendant -- and then waiting 90 days for the defendant “to take corrective action.”
Eastwood's Mission Ranch hotel had been sued without warning, leading him to declare: “The typical thing is to get someone who is disabled in collusion with sleazebag lawyers, and they file suits.”
“The cynic in me says that maybe the most accurate label we can put on [‘Million Dollar Baby’] is ‘Clint Eastwood's Revenge,’” says Drake. “Hey, if we kill 'em, we don't have to make our resorts accessible!”
Hostile celebrities, an indifferent and ill-informed public, and movies putting them out of their misery...the situation is bleak, but don't even think about feeling sorry for anyone. As Marta, Lucy, and millions of others in the movement would tell you: Piss on pity.
Mickey Z. is the author of four books, most recently: The Seven Deadly Spins: Exposing the Lies Behind War Propaganda (Common Courage Press). He can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.
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