Saturday, 17 December 2016

Speechless and Media Representation

Anyone who knows me well knows I have a lot to say on the topic of the importance and positive impact of diverse and accurate media representation,  As a kid growing up disabled, I didn't see many (if any) positive and realistic representations of disability that weren't tokenistic (appeared in one episode then disappeared with no further mention), or inspiration fodder for non-disabled viewers.  So it makes sense that I grew up feeling like disability is a bad thing and that I needed to do whatever I could to appear able-bodied as I could - often to my own detriment.

I often get told I expect too much, that I'm too 'politically correct' or that I look for the flaws in everything and will never be satisfied with anything in terms of media.  Personally I think it's more important that everyone views media critically, but that's an issue for another day.  I'm here to say that I've found a show that gets disability representation right and it's brilliant and I love it!

This series is new to American TV and not yet available on Netflix or similar here in NZ yet, and only a few episodes so far have aired, but can be accessed via streaming and what I've seen so far already has me committed to buying the season 1 DVD as soon as it comes out.

The show centres on the DiMeo family with a very protective mother played by Minnie Driver, a laid-back father, JJ - a non-verbal 16 year old son with cerebral palsy (played by Micah Fowler who himself has cerebral palsy), highly strung 13 year old son Ray, and competitive 12 year old daughter Dylan.  It's a comedy but not at the expense of disabled folk, and doesn't try to make a big moral life lesson our inspirational story out of it either, rather simply playing on the fun and silly side of life with a disability and even poking fun at prevalent ableist notions which gives me hope that non-disabled audiences will realise how ridiculous some of the things that get said or done to or about disabled people and maybe stop...

The show could be more diverse - the cast (and I don't just mean the central family) is very white aside from JJ's aide who is a hilarious, laid-back, black guy called Kenneth, but he regularly pokes fun at whiteness and white culture, which at least partially makes up for that.

But the best thing about Speechless is how relateable it is to myself and a lot of people growing up disable or with a disabled friend or family member, covering topics such as overprotective parents, parental advocacy, ableism, patronisation, guilt , rebellion, unequal time and attention from parents between disabled and non-disabled children, and many others, without being overly preachy or feelsy.

You don't have to take my word for it though... here are a couple of videos from a couple of other disabled people with what they have to say about Speechless.

Basically everyone should watch it!

Have you already been watching?  What did you think?  Let me know in the comments!

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