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Oscar nominees stir protest from disability rights advocates

Feb. 2, 2005 -- Alejandro Amenábar's The Sea Inside is the real-life story of Ramon Sampedro's crusade to get others to help him end his life. Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby ends with young boxer Maggie, now paralyzed, getting Frankie's help in ending her life. Eastwood's box office biggie has scored 7 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director, while Amenábar's movie has been nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.

But both films have provoked criticism from the disability rights movement. Steve Drake, research analyst with Not Dead Yet, says Eastwood's movie "plays out killing as a romantic fantasy and gives emotional life to the "better dead than disabled" mindset." (Visit the Not Dead Yet website). Chapman University's Art Blaser says that movies like The Sea Inside help legitimatize the belief that "nothing can be done about the undignified lives of people with disabilities (except to help them die)." (Read review.)

The Sea Inside is entirely about the "right to die" whereas Million Dollar Baby only contains it as a plot device, but advocates have aimed their protests at Eastwood because the Spanish film has been in limited release -- and because advocates have had a long-running feud with Eastwood for his opposition to the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. The actor/director captured headlines four years ago when he unsuccessfully fought a lawsuit filed against him for not making his Carmel, California resort accessible to wheelchair users. He further angered groups when he passionately argued in the U.S. Congress for weakening the ADA by requiring people to give businesses a 90-day notice before suing over access problems. (More on this issue from Ragged Edge.)

Critics have hailed Million Dollar Baby as a masterpiece, but their reluctance to reveal its "right to die" ending has sparked debate within the profession, according to an article in the Jan. 31 online edition of Editor & Publisher. (Read article.)

Some critics within the disability movement say that the real problem with such films is not so much their subject matter but the social climate within which they find acceptance -- and praise. "We have no national public conversation about life as a severely disabled person," writes Ragged Edge editor Mary Johnson. "Thus we have no understanding -- and no real way to achieve an understanding, much less a social consensus -- about what life with a severe disability should be like. And so we have no way to really understand -- no way to believe, as a society -- that it is all right to be disabled. We have no social consensus that it's all right to live with a disability." ( Read article.)

News coverage of this issue:
Groups Criticize 'Baby'... - New York Times (registration req'd)
Film Critics at Center of Controversy... - Editor & Publisher
Disabled vs. Eastwood, Round two - Denver Post
Eastwood Film Draws Criticism and Support - Seattle Times
Beating up Baby - Slate
Dubious Conclusions The Chicago Reader








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Media Circus, from Ragged Edge magazine





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