This entry originally appeared on my disability blog, I hate stairs.
Mississippi State’s Lee Hall auditorium filled to capacity Tuesday for the screening of “Darius Goes West,” an independent film about a teenager with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy who embarks on a west-bound road trip. Darius, who’s friends helped him make the trip, left his home of Athens, GA on an adventure across the country to get his wheelchair “pimped” on MTV’s Pimp My Ride.
Matt and I were allowed to enter the auditorium early to find a place to park our chairs before the crowd congested the aisles. Ironically (maybe), the place chosen for the screening was one of the more inaccessible buildings on campus. It remains that way largely because of its historical value. It’s an old building, but its classic. However, the auditorium was recently renovated extensively. Ramps had even been constructed to allow wheelchairs onto the stage. Unfortunately, the planners of the renovation failed to include sufficient wheelchair seating in the auditorium. The organizers of the screening made up for it (or tried to) by reserving the entire front row, allowing wheelchairs to park in front of the seats. Not wanting to stick out, Matt and I parked to the far right of the front row.
I had high hopes for the film, but I was a bit skeptical as well. I was unsure how the film would present life with a disability (in this case, one similar to mine). I was unsure how my non-disabled peers would react. Would it give them a better understanding of how one lives with a disability? Would it confirm that people with disabilities have no hope and should just play and be taken care of until they die? Would it invoke empathy or sympathy? Would it make them think of people with disabilities as slightly inferior (in an unconscious way)?
The storyline was definitely the stuff of a documentary film. An ordinary kid. A bold quest. I couldn’t help but think that it would be entertaining, while also showing how ordinary people with disabilities live life.
And so we watched as Darius and his good friends set out for California. They had ups and downs along the way, but they always made the best of the downs. The often used humor to turn a crappy situation into a funny one. I won’t ruin it for you, since you’re going to buy the film on DVD, but it was a success.
While it was somewhat touching and emotionally dramatic, which I think is what many expected, it also realistically showed some the issues people with MD face. It emphasized empathy. It emphasized the need for accessibility. Yeah, it was probably not presented the way I, my brother, or other person with a disability would have presented it, but Darius’ crew presented it well from the perspective of the non-disabled person. They did so with understanding. Audiences probably relate to the film more from this perspective.
Best of all, they helped show something that I, for one, find difficult to express at times. Personality. We got to know Darius. His jokes. His smack talk. His laugh. His attitude. His talents. His passions. The things that make Darius, well, Darius. I’ve felt, at times, that having a disability made social interactions trickier and more awkward than if I had not had a disability. Sometimes it takes people a while to get to know me because of that barrier. Some people click with me easily, some don’t. I suppose that’s what it’s like with everyone. But of everything in the film, the revelation of Darius’ personality best provides understanding about people with disabilities. That they are just that. People.
DGW—Know about it.