Diversity Sometimes the Worst Disabilities Are Those Term Paper

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Sometimes the worst disabilities are those which are invisible to the naked eye; people who have a mental illness or disability are overwhelmingly stigmatized by society and discrimination against them is both widespread and fully condoned in our culture. (Johnstone, 2005). The disadvantages of mental disabilities are compounded by the fact that the abilities which are disabled, so to speak, tend to be those which are most useful in navigating the social provisions for the disabled, and by the lack of physical manifestations which may discourage outsiders from recognizing the need for intervention. Thus there are many particular challenges facing the mentally disabled, including a lack of social sensitivity to, acceptance of, and knowledge about these disabilities, and widespread institutional discrimination affecting employment, medical care, travel, residency, and many other aspects of life. The purpose of this paper is to explore the portrayal in film and literature of the challenges faced by people with mentally disabilities; this may be accomplished by discussing in detail the films Forrest Gump and A Beautiful Mind.

Mental health, mental illness, and mental disabilities are popular themes in many movies. From the classics such as One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, which is set in a facility for the mentally disabled, and The Rain Man, which tells the story of an autistic man and his brother, to more recent box-office hits such as Girl, Interrupted, about a girl with a borderline personality disorder, and I Am Sam, which portrays a man with an intellectual disability, mental disabilities have been explored by countless filmmakers. Mental illness is certainly not a new topic for artists to explore, as is evidenced by the prevalence of mental disorders in Shakespearean drama and the literature of the Victorian era. " Characters with mental disabilities or mental illnesses have long been staples of literature. Paranoia and senility, for example, are subjects that Shakespeare exploited in Macbeth and Lear; a popular entertainment for Elizabethans was visiting the lunatic asylum..." (Smith, 1999) There is something unique about exploring these topics in today's society because of the dichotomy which exists between the simultaneous demands for political correctness and stigmatization of the mentally challenged. Movie critics, as well as the common movie audiences, are often confused by the technicalities of mental, emotional, and intellectual disabilities. "This tendency to conflate all mental disability, both emotional and intellectual in origin, shows that public education about various disabilities is still needed." (Duncan, 2002) Movies which strive to reveal something about these conditions may actually be portraying stereotypes that further the stigmatization and misconceptions already present in society. Both of the films in question, Forrest Gump and A Beautiful Mind, fall at least partially into both sides of this dichotomy; they both portray positive aspects of the characters with mental disabilities in such a way that audiences will think well of these characters, as well as providing these same audiences with some fuel for their prejudices through oversimplification and misrepresentation.

The movie Forrest Gump focuses on a mentally impaired person who succeeds in life despite what appears to be severe disadvantages and the many obstacles he is forced to overcome. The main character, Forrest, played by Tom Hanks, finds this success through his optimism and "dumb" luck. Forrest grows up in Greenbow, Alabama, where his mother, played by Sally Field, runs a boarding house while caring for her "special needs" child. Forrest has an IQ of 75, which is 5 points below what is considered normal; Forrest has an intellectual disability and is considered to be "slow." While he is outcast from social circles in his school and community, his mother and his best friend both see him as a kind, good person. This friend, Jenny Curran, played by Robin Wright, reached out to Forrest in elementary school when he faced social rejection that bordered on physical danger. This abused girl turns into a self-destructive woman who samples the worst excesses of the drug counterculture. In fact, the harassment he goes through because of limited understanding of the world around him give Forrest a uniquely positive perception of life. Gump maintain his optimism in the midst of the political, social and cultural turmoil of 60s and 70s. Forrest becomes a star football player, a war hero, a successful businessman. There is one defining element in his life: his unswerving love for Jenny even…[continue]

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