Criptiques on Film: Very Special Episodes Have Arrived!

Disability representation in the media is something I think about. A lot. I often find myself cringing, sighing and cursing at news articles that discuss disability and want to throw my remote at the TV on the rare occasions when I actually see disabled characters in films or TV shows. The reason for my frustration is simple, but comes with profound consequences. The media gets us wrong. Constantly. We’re tragic. We’re “suffering from” whatever impairment(s) we happen to have. We’re incompetent. But never forget, we’re always inspirational. These stereotypes are not only dangerous but very, very lazy. And they influence not only how nondisabled people perceive us, but how we as disabled people perceive ourselves.

I feel incredibly lucky to belong to such a diverse and brilliant disability community. I’m consistently blown away by what crip artists and activists are accomplishing and the immense creativity of my disabled brothers and sisters. It gives me a sense of pride and a feeling of belonging- something that I never experienced as a young, extremely isolated, disabled girl.

The combination of utter exasperation with crip representation and a love for the (disability) arts led to the latest expansion of Criptiques. Films! My dear friend and crip sister, Cheryl Green and I decided we should collaborate on a project together. Cheryl shares my allergy to bullshit and happens to be an amazing activist, writer, and filmmaker. We applied for a grant, got it, and proceeded to make some comedy films written by and starring two disabled women. We wanted to feature content that was related to disability, but also include content that made no mention of disability at all. Because despite living and breathing disability, we’re multidimensional people and like to talk about other things. We wanted to normalize the fact that there were two disabled women onscreen, who weren’t tragic, inspirational or even likable! I wanted to play a bitch. I think I succeeded. We named the project Criptiques On Film: Very Special Episodes. The title is a reference to schmaltzy afterschool specials where characters always learn a lesson in the end- something we definitely do not do in our films. More importantly it’s a tongue-in-cheek nod to disabled people being labeled “special,” a phrase Cheryl and I find detestable and ableist. We held a screening of our films, which received some excellent press! You can read an interview with me here, and check out a joint interview with the both of us here.

All films are captioned. We hope you enjoy them as much as we enjoyed making them. Please check out and share our films- more are on the way!

Very Special Episodes from Criptiques On Film! by Cheryl Green

Special! There’s a word I don’t like when it’s related to disability. It feels like such a consolation prize. Well, we only recently decided as a nation you should be allowed a public education. So your education will be Special. We don’t think you’re good enough athletes to truly compete. So your competitions will be Special! Access and accommodations? What are those? Do we have to provide them? Not really, because your needs are just Special, not normal!

With so much long-standing, deep resentment and mistrust for the word “special,” it was only a matter of time before Caitlin Wood and I stole it, flipped it on its head, and served it back to the community as a social critique. We’re certainly not the first people to do it. But we do think we’re pretty funny at it.

Allow me to introduce you to Very Special Episodes. First, Very Special Episode is an annoying trope that TV writers use. Here are some excerpts from the trope’s definition. (I’ve changed some punctuation to make it easier to read. But I didn’t change the words.) Read the whole thing here: tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/VerySpecialEpisode .

“An episode…in which the lead confronts some highly emotional or forbidden issue from everyday life. Drug abuse, teenage sex, bulimia…. At the end of the episode, the protagonist is Enlightened….These episodes were far more common in the 1980s. They’ve largely fallen out of favor since then for most shows due, in part, to the increasing number of shows, particularly dramas, where issues such as drug/alcohol abuse, violence, sex, and death are dealt with on an almost weekly basis….It is also a very ripe target for parody; these days, parodies are probably as common as seeing this trope played straight.”

So with that, I offer you my second use of the term “Very Special Episodes.” Although ours isn’t straight, and it isn’t parody. Ours is satire, sometimes subtle but always scathing.

caitlin holding sign reading 'disabled'

[Image description: Caitlin holds a sign up that covers her chin and mouth. She looks off to the side. The sign says “Disabled” in alternating yellow and purple marker. The word floats in a puffy, blue cloud, filled with more blue clouds and blue birds.]

Caitlin and I received a Regional Arts & Culture Council (RACC) grant this year. The goal is to expand the brilliantly delicious, subversive, and critical ideas from the book “Criptiques” she recently edited. So we created video! (OK, we didn’t create “video.” That would indeed be a very special claim to fame. But we created some videos.) We’re excited to present the first two episodes of our web shorts called “Very Special Episodes.” Come to our screening, won’t you? We think it will be a very special event.

Saturday, December 13, 2014
2:00 – 4:00 pm
Center for Intercultural Organizing
700 N. Killingsworth St.
On the #72, near the #4 bus lines
Refreshments provided, including gluten-free, dairy-free, meat-free, and all of the food is free

Tickets: $10 per person, with no one turned away. Buy them here!

Venue is wheelchair accessible. Restrooms are accessible, enormous, and gender neutral.
This presentation will have ASL interpretation, Captions for the films, and live Audio Description

I can promise you a couple things about these shorts. Referring back to the TVTropes.org description above, our Very Special Episodes will definitely tackle some everyday life issues. But there will be absolutely no enlightenment at the end. That’s because people usually assume a story about disability will include either the disabled person becoming more enlightened (and overcoming their “challenges”), or the folks around that person becoming enlightened just by being in the room with someone who’s “been dealt a bad hand but doesn’t let it bring them down!”

In fact, get ready to see disabled characters in a way you’re not use to: totally non-inspirational, not lying in bed, not angelic and sweet, and not talking about impairments or rehabilitation. Caitlin and I are a couple of gals hanging out doing things. Despite that mundane description, we still feel it’s quite radical to have disabled bodies and minds onscreen where overcoming our disabilities is never a topic on the table.

We’re showing just the beginning of our work. The Very Special Episodes will expand in the future. So will the Criptiques On Film body of work in general. It was enough work for the two of us to wrangle ourselves, much less include other people. Caitlin and I have long been very committed to intersectional work. And that means future episodes won’t only look at experiences and perspectives the two of us hold. But for the moment, you’re stuck with us!

This blogpost originally appeared on Cheryl Green’s wonderful website Who Am I To Stop It

Criptiques Podcast Episode 3: Maria Palacios

10565015_10204335175044016_4665442169741838069_nI had the wonderful pleasure of interviewing the one and only Maria Palacios: spoken word performer, poet, and ‘goddess on wheels.’ Maria is part of the incredible Sins Invalid family, and is a longtime disability activist (she was there at the Capitol Crawl!). She recently published her most recent book, Criptionary, which is available for purchase here. We had a highly entertaining conversation, discussing her activism, poetry, Frida Kahlo and crip pride. Enjoy.

Continue reading

Compliments 101 by Cheryl Green

The first rule of complimenting a disabled person: There’s no actual rule for what we will or should take as a compliment.

The second rule: If we don’t feel complimented by your compliment, don’t blame our attitude. Perhaps what you said doesn’t feel affirmative to everyone.

The third rule: It’s important for me, one person, to not write a list of rules that’s supposed to cover 20% of the U.S. population and millions worldwide. That’s why my first two rules seem wishy-washy. They’re more “perhapses” than “rules.”

Continue reading

Disability Visibility Project- Interview with Alice Wong

dsc03620

Alice Wong

What is the disability visibility project and how did it get started?

Disability Visibility Project: A Community Partnership with StoryCorps is a year-long grassroots campaign encouraging people with disabilities to record their stories at StoryCorps (3 locations: Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco and a mobile tour) celebrating the upcoming 25th anniversary of the ADA in 2015.

As a public radio nerd, I love listening to NPR and one of my favorite segments on Morning Edition are stories from StoryCorps. Last year StoryCorps San Francisco had an event at the Contemporary Jewish Museum where they brought together the actual people featured in some of their most popular stories. At the event the presenter talked about community partnerships and it made me think about the disability community. I went up to someone from StoryCorps and asked whether they had any current community partnerships with a disability organization and they said no. I was really surprised since there’s such a rich disability community in the Bay Area. I thought this was a golden opportunity to do something.

Continue reading