Hey, guys! As promised, here is my disabled teen review of Crip Camp, the disability documentary that changed my life. I finished it just last week Friday and the impact it’s already had on me has been so profound. When you’re a teenager, everyone asks you what you want to be when you’re older. I always figured I’d choose a career path to do with writing and graphic design. I now know without a shadow of a doubt that when I’m older, I want to fight for more disabled voices to be heard and for society’s view of us to change. I want to dedicate my life to doing whatever I can to stand up for my community. It was Crip Camp that empowered me to make that decision.
If you don’t want to read any further, just know that I HIGHLY recommend that you watch this film. Most people learn about other rights movements, but can you name at least one historical disabled activist who fought for the rights of disabled people? Can you name at least one major event in the fight for the cause, like a specific disability protest or disability sit-in? The history of the disabled rights movement is one that the education system frequently ignores. Even at the time it was happening, news stations would usually refuse to report on the protests.
Despite being the biggest minority in the world, our history is constantly disregarded. Most disabled people aren’t even aware of many of the major events in our past – and I used to be among them. But our fight for equal rights is one that deserves to be told and heard. Therefore, I feel like this documentary is a must-watch for everyone. So if you don’t want to read my review until you’ve watched the film, I hope that you enjoy it! This review will contain spoilers.
Crip Camp is a 2020 Netflix-released history documentary about the events that led up to the Americans with Disabilities Act getting signed. It begins at a camp for disabled teenagers in 1971 in the U.S. called Camp Jened. The freeing atmosphere of Camp Jened causes some of its disabled campers to realise that there is no excuse for how much society excludes and systematically discriminates against them. They therefore begin to fight for their rights by protesting, marching, and performing numerous disabled sit-ins. Crip Camp tells this story through the use of archival footage and interviews with the disabled activists involved in the movement.
Crip Camp is available on Netflix and is rated R due to a little light swearing and some language including sexual references. Its runtime is an hour and forty-eight minutes.
I thoroughly enjoyed Crip Camp and cried proud tears multiple times while viewing it. It was an educational yet enjoyable, and hopefully eye-opening documentary. Here are my six thoughts on the film:
1. Plot and Structure
I liked how the film began like most inspirational disability life documentaries, before quickly subverting expectations with a startling quote. I felt like this was done to show its audience that they were about to see a disability film like no other. Admittedly, the film did drag on a little bit in the beginning when it was mostly showing archival footage about life at Camp Jened and hadn’t started to delve into the history of the rights movement yet. For someone who maybe hasn’t seen that many disabled people before, it probably would be more interesting. The best part of the film for me was when it neared its second act and started to focus more on the Disabled in Action activist group.
I did long for the freedom of the disabled campers when we saw them dancing and having fun at the camp in the beginning of the film. A place where disabled teens are free to be themselves without the usual walls society places between us and the able-bodied, sounded like a paradise. It was interesting to see disabled people being able to spend a few days in a community bubble where ableism didn’t exist, but it wasn’t as interesting to me as the rest of the story. Afterwards, the story gained more speed and had me hooked until the very end.
2. The Characters
The story is told through the eyes of multiple disabled activists and former Camp Jened members. Their interviews were one of the best parts of the film for me. I loved the casual conversation-like interview style. Even though they had all done such incredible things, the people that they interviewed came across as very natural and relatable:
- I was able to relate to James Lebrecht the most as he told his story about being the only disabled student at an able-bodied high school and his experiences being a disabled teenager in the U.S.
- Denise Sherer Jacobson and her husband made me laugh with their great sense of humour and wild stories about ableism and defying expectations.
- And Judith Heumann was a force to be reckoned with considering how hard she fought for disabled people’s rights. Her determination and resilience for the cause were primarily what spurred me into action too. I now view her as an activist role model.
3. My Favourite Part
My favourite part was learning more about Disabled in Action and their impact. In the documentary, we see protestors stopping traffic by forming a barricade of wheelchairs with wheelchair-users holding signs. We also hear about members having to pull themselves and their wheelchairs up steep stairs just to make it to protests. The Disabled in Action group worked hard to be accessible: they wouldn’t start a meeting until there was a sign interpreter there and they tried their best to ensure that everyone’s voices were heard. One of my favourite moments was watching Judith Heumann give her equality speech. It was a highly emotional moment and a turning point in the disabled rights movement. I was moved deeply by her words which ring with a painful truth and a sadness about how her community was treated.
Another highlight was learning about the 504 Sit-in: the 504 Sit-in began on April 5th, 1977. Its goal was to push the granting of certain regulations in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. People with disabilities occupied federal buildings and refused to leave until the government started to take them more seriously. The sit-in lasted twenty-eight days and some of the people protesting hungerstriked for as long as twenty-six days.
The police cut off the phone lines to the building during the sit-in, but the protesters were very determined and resourceful. Instead, they would have a deaf member use sign language in front of the window to the people on the street so that they could communicate with the outside. They weren’t alone though – the Black Panther Party members helped by coming and giving them hot meals, and women from a lesbian bar across the street provided soap and water so that the disabled protesters could bathe themselves. Whatever opinions you have about them, it’s still incredible to know that the other minorities in the U.S. stood with the disabled community in their cause.
4. Takeaway Message
If you’re an able-bodied viewer, I think that the makers of the film would be a little disappointed if your only reaction is ‘it was inspiring’. From what I understood, the goal of the film is not only to educate, but also to show what we need to do to improve how we as a society treat disabled people. “The problem is with people without disabilities, we are the ones that need to change.” is a quote from the film. I think this is important to note. It’s not just a fun story about brave disabled people who fought for their rights – it’s also about how we all need to do better in our own lives by educating ourselves and being more accessible.
5. Interesting Disability Issues Addressed in the Film
The documentary also addressed multiple interesting disability issues such as the hierarchy of disability, and how disabled people are often denied the right of sexual expression because most people assume that they aren’t sexually active. The hierarchy of disability refers to how most people view disabilities. Neil Jacobson points out how people with polio were usually at the top of the hierarchy because they looked the most ‘normal’ and people with cerebral palsy were often at the bottom. He said that when he asked his girlfriend to marry him, his mother said: “I understand why you want to marry a handicapped girl, but why can’t you find a polio?”
I see the effects of the hierarchy of disability in modern media all of the time. If a show or film chooses to have disabled representation in it, they rarely choose a visible disability. I once heard a filmmaker talk about the fact that disabled people whose bodies look different from most able-bodied people, may make audiences uncomfortable. So, most films choose to represent blind, deaf, or neurodiverse characters instead. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with representing these disabilities and we need more of it, however, it’s also important to have characters with disabilities that may make their bodies look very different from how most able-bodied people look.
Saying that it makes audiences uncomfortable is a poor excuse because seeing more visual disabilities on-screen will help people to realise that they are normal and won’t make them uncomfortable anymore. A body that someone was born with should never make another person ‘uncomfortable’ in the first place. After Neil made this point, I changed my comic book to include a larger variety of visible disabilities.
6. The Film’s Impact
Denise Sherer Jacobson stated: “You can pass a law, but until you change society’s attitudes, that law won’t mean much.” I believe that this is where our generation should take over. Now that there are laws for disabled people set in place, it’s time to focus more on the social aspect and people’s view of disabled people. Representation and education are key, and this is what I’ve decided to spend my life fighting for. Until people see more disabled people on their TVs and phones, until they learn more about them in schools, and see them singing number one songs in the music charts – people’s opinions of them may stay the same as it was back then. We’re still mostly pitied, still mostly ridiculed in comedy shows, and still have to face ableism almost every day. I hope one day I’ll be able to help in changing this.
Rating and Conclusion
In conclusion, I rate the story of the disability movement that was told in this documentary a 10/10. However, for the beginning parts which I didn’t find as interesting as the rest, I rate the entire film 9/10.
I hope that you enjoyed this review! Thank you so much for reading ❤ How much did you learn about disability history in school? How much did you already know before reading this post? I’d be interested to know in the comments below. See you next week!