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3 Reasons Why 'Christmas Ever After' Is Important for Disability Representation

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As Christmas is right around the corner, I, like many people, have been getting festive by watching all the classic films like “Love Actually,” “The Holiday” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (or simply “The Grinch”). But last week I discovered what I believe to be a hidden gem, and as soon as I finished watching it, I knew I needed to write about it. The film is called “Christmas Ever After” and was filmed across 15 days during the pandemic. (I know, I can’t believe it either!)

The film follows Izzi Simmons (Ali Stroker), an author who spends Christmas at her favorite ski lodge searching for inspiration to finish her new book. Upon her arrival, she is surprised to find that the lodge has a new owner, Matt (Daniel di Tomasso).

For those of you who are intrigued and want to watch it, you can find it on Channel 5 in the U.K. and Lifetime in the U.S.

So why is this film so important? Well, for me, the film stands out for three reasons:

1. Izzie Simmons has a disability, but it is NOT a plot point.

That’s right, this film has everything you could possibly want in a Christmas movie — snow, a cozy small town, carol singing, gingerbread baking, music montages and romance. The only difference is that the protagonist is a disabled woman. Now I know there are plenty of films about disabled people like “Me Before You” (2016) and “The Fundamentals of Caring” (2014) but unlike those films, the fact that Izzie uses a wheelchair is not the focus. It just is. As a wheelchair user myself, it felt so refreshing to watch a film featuring a disabled character that at no point became “inspiration porn.” In case any of you are unaware, inspiration porn is when disabled people are viewed as an inspiration just for having a disability.

This is the first film I’ve ever seen with a realistic portrayal of day-to-day life with a physical disability that illustrates how independent people can be. Izzi lives alone in an apartment in New York, she drives a car adapted with hand controls and she is a successful author.

Historically, films have tended to focus on the extremes of physical disability — mild (can walk but with a limp) or severe (such as complete paralysis). While people with these conditions do exist, there are many others (myself included) who can’t walk but are still very independent — just like Izzi. Therefore, I believe this film is important because it shows that physical disability, like all disabilities, is a spectrum. And there is no correlation between physical ability and mental ability — you can be a wheelchair user and have a job/go to university etc.

2. The love interest is able-bodied.

Yep, another reason that makes this film so refreshing is that Matt is able-bodied. This is important especially to me because it helps to lessen the stigma surrounding dating as a disabled person, particularly “inter-abled” relationships. An inter-abled relationship refers to a relationship between a disabled person and an able-bodied person.

Unfortunately, from personal experience, I have learned that society often believes that disabled people should only be with other disabled people, or that being disabled means you are not worthy of being in a relationship with an able-bodied person. In the past, I’ve had people make all kinds of comments, but the most common one tends to be “I’d date you if you weren’t in a wheelchair.” However, this view is thankfully not held by everyone, and there are many people in inter-abled relationships who are very happy.

One of the biggest stereotypes of inter-abled relationships is that the able-bodied partner is a saint. This is because people assume that to be in an inter-abled relationship, the able-bodied partner has had to sacrifice everything and being with a disabled person is so high maintenance. Again, this is simply not true. In my opinion, being in a relationship with a disabled person doesn’t need to cause a commotion because it is normal and happens every day, which is exactly what this film does — normalizes inter-abled relationships.

The film is laced with things that show how Izzi’s disability has no effect on her and Matt’s relationship, but there were two specific moments that made me overly emotional with happiness. The first was when Izzi gave Matt bowling tips, as it shows that disabled people are not always the ones who need a helping hand. The second was when the two of them were out on a walk and they held hands (it’s the small things). Ultimately, by portraying this on screen, it will hopefully encourage people to accept that having a disability means you are in no way less worthy of love.

3. Izzi is played by a disabled actress.

Finally, what makes this film so incredibly important is that the actress is disabled herself. Ali Stroker is the first disabled actress to win a Tony award, which she won for her performance in “Oklahoma!” She is also one of the first disabled actresses to have the starring role in a film. This is a momentous achievement, because it provides evidence that the film industry is finally beginning to recognize that having a disability does not mean people don’t have talent.

Over the last few years, the number of disabled actors in roles has increased. Season 2 of Netflix’s “Sex Education” features Isaac (George Robinson), a wheelchair user who lives on the same caravan site as Maeve. Before that, on “Breaking Bad,” Walter White Jr., son of Walter White, has cerebral palsy, and he is played by RJ Mitte, who also has the condition. Hulu’s “Run” stars wheelchair user Kiera Allen, and Deaf actress Millicent Simmonds received rave reviews for her performance in “A Quiet Place.”

“Christmas Ever After” is an important sign of progress. I hope the film industry continues to improve and takes note of the work the television industry is doing to bring realistic representations of disability to life on our screens.

This story originally appeared on Discussions With Dan.

Image via IMDB.

Originally published: December 22, 2020
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