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5 Films That Feature a Main Character With Cerebral Palsy

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March is Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month, and to celebrate, The Mighty decided to research five films released over the last 30 years that tell a story about someone living with cerebral palsy. Take a look:

1. Margarita, With a Straw (2014)

Laila (Kalki Koechlin) is an aspiring writer and lyricist who was born with cerebral palsy. She lives in India with her family until she’s accepted to New York University on a full scholarship, at which point she moves to Manhattan with her mother. In the city, she unexpectedly falls in love and begins to rebel against the constraints she’s lived with her entire life.

The film centers on Laila’s efforts to live a normal life despite her cerebral palsy. It received praise for making her disability a significant but not overwhelming aspect of her character. “Our heroine certainly has physical limitations and related phycological setbacks,” Dennis Harvey writes in his review for Variety. “But it’s her adventurous spirit (abetted by supportive family and friends) that sets the tone in [director] Shonali Bose’s winning sophomore feature.”

2. Enter the Faun (2014)

“Enter the Faun” differs from the other films on this list because it stars an actor living with cerebral palsy. Gregg Mozgala was born with the condition and had 12 years of physical therapy before working with Tamar Rogoff, a choreographer who, within eight months, changed the way Mozgala walks. Rogoff directed and produced this documentary, which recounts her experience training Mozgala to become a dancer in a piece called “Diagnosis of a Faun.”

Rogoff and Mozgala’s story challenges barriers associated with disability and has prompted a movement to inspire others to do the same. The film’s creators founded the “Cerebral Posse,” an organization that encourages people living with cerebral palsy to get together in their area and learn from each other, discuss issues facing their community and participate in the arts communities.

3. War Eagle, Arkansas (2007)

Enoch (Luke Grimes) is a star baseball pitcher with a speech impediment. Wheels (Dan McCabe) is his witty, talkative best friend with cerebral palsy, who’s nicknamed for his wheelchair. As their high school graduation nears, each of them worries about what comes next. When Enoch considers leaving their small town of War Eagle to attend university on a baseball scholarship, Wheels grapples with the fact that he has fewer options and considers what his future would hold without his friend.

The two support each other throughout the film, but Wheels, with his humor and confidence, serves as Enoch’s voice of reason. He helps Enoch work through his social anxiety, prompts him to ask out a girl he likes and encourages him to stand up to his domineering grandfather. “I don’t care if you can’t get out a full sentence,” he tells him in the trailer below. “Don’t let your grandpa do all the talking.”

4. Door to Door (2002)

Based on a true story, “Door to Door” is about the late Bill Porter (William H. Macy), a man with cerebral palsy who, despite being told repeatedly he was not employable, became an exceptional door-to-door salesman. Day after day, Porter put his physical limitations aside and walked 8 to 10 miles a day, slowly winning over customers until he became one of the top salespeople for J.R. Watkins grocery distributor.

To prepare for the roll, Macy, an able-bodied actor, met with Bill Porter and did some research on cerebral palsy but acknowledged how difficult it was to act out the disability. “I realized pretty early on that whatever I did would have to be stylized because, well, try as I may, it is really hard to imitate something like that,” Macy told ABILITY Magazine.

5. My Left Foot (1989)

This drama is based on the 1954 autobiography of Christy Brown (Daniel Day-Lewis), an Irishman with cerebral palsy, born into a working class family in the 1930s. The film follows Brown, who can only control the movement in his left foot, as he struggles to find his place in the world. He eventually goes on to become a remarkable writer and painter.

Day-Lewis, who is known for his method acting, went to admirable lengths to portray Brown as accurately as possible. He remained in character as a man with cerebral palsy throughout the duration of the production — he never left his wheelchair and had to be carried across the set and spoon-fed by the crew, The Independent reported. Hal Hinson summed Day-Lewis’ performance up best in his review for The Washington Post:

Daniel Day-Lewis clenches his teeth so hard and blinks so ferociously that you’d think he was trying to force steam out of his ears. With his frail body straining against itself, his neck twisted and his hands stretched out to full length, he tortures each word out of himself, as if he were ripping them out of his flesh. And we feel that in watching him we’re watching the essential struggle — not just a man fighting against his disease, but the fight to communicate that everyone wages.

6. Gaby: A True Story (1987)

Gabriella Brimmer was born with cerebral palsy in Mexico in 1947. After a hard-won battle to attend conventional school to learn to read and write, she became a published author and was one of the first to advocate on behalf of people with disabilities.

“Gaby: A True Story” is based on Brimmer’s life and work. The film follows Gaby (Rachel Levin) as she learns to communicate by spelling out words on an alphabet board with her big toe. She goes on to fight tirelessly to attend public school rather than the separate school for students with disabilities. Though the film was released almost 30 years ago, it evokes topics that are still relevant today, such as the right to an equal education for students with disabilities, the right to live independently and how people with disabilities relate to their families.

How well do you think these films portrayed cerebral palsy? Let us know in the comments below.

Read more about “My Left Foot” and other films that portray disability here.

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Originally published: March 16, 2015
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