Clint Eastwood’s latest film, “Million Dollar Baby,” has been nominated for seven Academy Awards, including the five leading categories of Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Actress in a Leading Role, and Best Supporting Actor. The Boston Globe called it “sublime,” “Eastwood’s autumnal masterpiece,” and the Boston Herald hailed Eastwood’s “glory.” Other critics gushed that it was “remarkable,” “joins the honor list of great fight films,” “a model of unadorned precision,” a “heartfelt story about human frailty and the power of redemption,” “a breathtaking human drama that will leave you speechless,” and, from that dean of American movie critics Roger Ebert, “a masterpiece, pure and simple, deep and true.” No major film critic has noticed anything awry about the film’s presentation of life after spinal cord injury, which disability rights activists are ridiculing as absurd and insulting.
In order to correct this basic misrepresentation, the Boston chapter of Not Dead Yet, a nationwide grass-roots group resisting the promotion of assisted suicide and the “mercy killing” of disabled people, will be be gathering outside the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston on Sunday, February 27, at 6:00 p.m. to educate the guests and media attending the Massachusetts Film Bureau’s 14th Annual Massachusetts Movie Awards Gala. The hotel is at 200 Boylston St.
This is not a protest, nor are activists calling for a boycott of the movie.
“Please go see this movie, but keep in mind how dead wrong it is about disability” said John Kelly of Boston. “Like the character Maggie (Hilary Swank), I have a high spinal cord injury, but audiences should know that while Maggie received cartoon care, and got cartoon skin ulcers leading to a cartoon amputated leg, real spinal cord injury patients get real care and keep their legs. In real rehab centers, we get up in our wheelchairs every day and we drive them ourselves, we get counseling and learn how to live independently, we get excited about ever newer and better assistive technology, and most importantly, we do all this in the community of other spinal cord injured people learning the same.”
To dramatize how criminally neglected Maggie was, the group has produced a “brochure” describing Maggie’s rehabilitation center, “Serenity Glen,” which, so the audience was told, “took good care of Maggie.” The “brochure” parodies the dismal stereotypes “Serenity Glen” promotes, along with such crude plot devices as Maggie’s complete isolation and devastating bedsores, as just what audiences and critics expect about life after spinal cord injury.
“Every aspect of Maggie’s stay at ‘Serenity Glen,’” Alyson Perry of Medford said, “is set up to flow swiftly to one lethal conclusion–that Maggie is better off dead than disabled.”
The Los Angeles Chapter of Not Dead Yet and other LA-area disability activists will be making exactly this point at a press conference Sunday outside the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles, where the Oscar ceremony will take place. As Not Dead Yet research analyst Stephen Drake said, “This movie is a corny, melodramatic assault on people with disabilities. It plays out killing as a romantic fantasy and gives emotional life to the ‘better dead than disabled’ mindset lurking in the heart of the typical (read: nondisabled) audience member.”
Diane Coleman, Not Dead Yet founder and president, pointed out the potential deadly consequences of this message.”The biggest problem with Million Dollar Baby is that some of the audience will be newly disabled people, their family members and friends, swept along in the critically acclaimed emotion that the kindest response to someone struggling with the life changes brought on by a severe injury is, after all, to kill them.”
Not Dead Yet has been joined in condemning the film’s “better dead than disabled” message by the National Spinal Cord Injury Association and the American Association of People With Disabilities, the nation’s largest nonprofit cross-disability member organization.
Bill Henning, Executive Director of the Boston Center for Independent Living, is concerned about the denial of independent living in the movie. “I’m disappointed, if hardly surprised, that ‘Million Dollar Baby’ apparently ducks consideration of services that would have enabled Maggie to live a meaningful life. For thirty years we’ve helped thousands of disabled Massachusetts residents to live and prosper in the community, but Eastwood had to resort to a ‘Hollywood ending,’ one whose fundamental tragedy is not the actual storyline but its utterly false statement that a disabled life is not worth living.”
“Imagine” added Kelly, “if in the boxing scenes, it was obvious that all the punches missed their targets by three feet, yet the characters fell down and suffered injuries anyway. The film would be laughed out of the theaters and disgraced in the academy. Well, The Mayo Clinic reports that there are up to 200,000 people living in the United States with a spinal cord injury, not one of whom seems to have been consulted for the making of this movie. The question is how could audiences and critics not even notice Clint Eastwood’s cartoonish, negative depiction of the rehab experience?”