On the 19th of July I had the pleasure of watching Defiant Lives. I have to say it was one of the most amazing nights of my life. I absolutely loved everything about the documentary. I was initially a bit hesitant going in to watch it because the night before I had read a criticism that said the documentary did not include people of colour. On my way there the tram was late and my annoyance level was on 100. The screening was scheduled to start at 630pm and I arrived just after 630pm. I made a dash towards the cinema only to discover people were still queuing to get in, I wasn’t late after all. In fact it took probably 15-20 minutes to get everyone in and settled in.
Sarah Barton is a an absolute legend for making Defiant Lives, hats off to you phenomenal woman. I’m not going to say much about the actual content documentary as I would have to watch it twice or thrice for an accurate synopsis. I will write about what stood out for me.
What Stood Out.
Three things really stood out for me. One was the beginning of the documentary. The documentary starts with showing the history of how people with disabilities were treated in the USA, UK and here in Australia. It was shocking to the say the very least to watch the bad conditions that people with disabilities were subjected to in institutions where their parents basically left them to die. The second thing was the Section 504 sit in protest by disability activists in the USA in the 70s. I can’t fully remember the details of what section 504 said but boy oh boy watching that sit in protest was truly inspirational to say the very least. These disability activists were so brave and defiant, camped in the offices till their mission was accomplished. They refused to leave. People had to bring them food and mattresses to sleep on at night. In the end they won the fight and got the person who was supposed to sign something to sign it ( I can’t remember what it was or who the person). Anyway you can read more about the sit protest here → Short History of the 504 Sit in. Third thing that stood out was the disability protest here in Melbourne back in 2012. Disability activists literally shut down major parts of the tram network on that day in Melbourne calling for more accessible trams. Disability activists stood on tram tracks on the biggest intersection in the city, some handcuffed themselves to trams, some stood in front of trams. At some time the police commissioner came down to speak to them but they did not back down. What was so outstanding about these two protests is how brave, strong, fierce, resilient and defiant these disability activists were.
What I loved The Most.
There is absolutely no shadow of doubt that I LOOOOVED Defiant Lives. Everything about it for me was perfect. I have to say though the one thing I really loved above everything else was the theme of disability in the documentary. Disability rights was the central theme and it was evident throughout the documentary from start to finish.
Like I stated before I was a bit hesitant before watching the documentary because of a criticism I had read online. However as a black woman I did not in any way feel like Sarah had to include every intersection in the documentary because this story was really about disability rights and disability rights covers everyone with a disability regardless of what your identity is or how you acquired your disability. I think the conversation on intersection is very important but in this case the central theme was disability rights and Sarah really stuck to that and told the rise and history of the movement well. In the Q & A session after the screening (yes Sarah attended the screening as she lives in Melbourne), she explained that she really just wanted to tell the story of the history and rise of the disability rights movement and I feel she did that really well. She also explained that there was a lot of footage they did not use because it didn’t fit in anywhere with the story.
“The way I look at this film is that it’s not definitive, I mean you can’t fit the whole rights movements into one film. There are many extremely important people who are not in the film obviously many of the important people are but there are many people who just sometimes for really dumb reasons like they weren’t in town when I was….so it’s a history.”-Sarh Barton.
Take Home Lessons For Disability Activists.
- Be united.
- Be organised and strategic.
- Think outside the box.
- Keep disability the main thing.
- Be defiant.
Next week I will write about what it meant to me watching Defiant Lives.
Below a video of a panel discussion after the screening of the documentary in New York.