Taking Tod Browning's classic film Freaks as a starting point, Salome Chasnoff looks back at the history of the representation of disability in Hollywood, discussing particular cases with activists, researchers and filmmakers.
Shot almost a century ago, Tod Browning's Freaks (1932) featured a model of identification that became innovative for Hollywood. Browning expected that viewers with and without disabilities would identify with the circus artists who had various disabilities instead of their antagonists who had none. Continuing Browning's policy of inclusion and neurodiversity and borrowing the form from Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman's documentary The Celluloid Closet, Salome Chasnoff offers a fresh perspective on the history of film and its role in the formation of stereotypes.
As any attempts to "imagine" what people with disabilities think and how they experience the world lead to false representation, the makers of Code of the Freaks invited activists, researchers, and filmmakers with various disabilities to share their opinions and experience. They discovered that many of the interviewees, in fact, preferred the crude humour of the Farrelly brothers to teary and manipulative dramas. Searching to establish an honest discourse on disability without fetishizing scars, demonizing evil men in wheelchairs, and patronizing people with developmental disabilities, the film criticizes Hollywood, whose reward system encourages "inspiring" stories of people with disabilities made for those without them.
A frank intersectional discussion of disability, race, and sexuality, Code of the Freaks challenges all sort of stereotypes—those of the "magical black people" (The Green Mile), the "magical little people" (Harry Potter), the beautiful and helpless blind women (Blink) and the blind men with superpowers (Daredevil), as well as the lack of happy endings for characters with disabilities.
Code of freaks
Director: Salome Chasnoff
USA, 2020. 68 MIN. 16+