An Oscar that changes the imagination of Down syndrome (03/13/2023)

Dark shirt and leopard jacket, a tear of emotion and the statue in his hands. This is the symbolic image of the night of the Oscars 2023, with James Martin on stage with producers Tom Berkeley and Ross White to accept the award won by An Irish Goodbye as best live action short film. James Martin turned 31 just yesterday, has Down syndrome and is one of the protagonists of the short.

“The news can only make me cry. I’m a mom and in times like these I kick my fears and my daughter’s struggles and push them miles away, along with the low expectations of the world out there», wrote Martina Fuga, communication manager of CoorDown and Emma’s mother. CoorDown is a coordination of associations of people with Down Syndrome which year after year on the occasion of World Down Syndrome Day which is celebrated on March 21 is changing the rules of communication on disability, with original, innovative and courageous campaigns, capable of changing the gaze. From the #DammiPiùVoce campaign, in which VIPs of the caliber of Sharon Stone relaunched the testimonies of children with down syndrome, to the #DearFutureMom of 2014 which delicately spoke about the decision to carry on the pregnancy of a child with Down syndrome, passing through #TheHiringChain on the work inclusion and #JustTheTwoOfUs dedicated to sexuality and love life.

«We activists had already jumped on our chairs in 2020 when Zack Gottsagen, also with the syndrome, took that stage to deliver a statuette, but today there is more. Today James Martin collected that award. An extraordinary thing happened last night for all the boys and girls with Down syndrome and their families and that is seeing themselves represented. Seeing this guy on that stage, in an event of this magnitude, creates a new imaginary», Fuga enthuses. «He gives me great satisfaction and as a mother also courage, because we all know how much there is a need for a different imaginary. It is as if we still have a database of images of disability: the eternal child, who needs care and compassion or someone else who speaks for him. Last night’s “shot” returns a different image: a capable, talented person who expresses his identity in the first person. I read that he went back to his job at Starbucks after the movie and that’s interesting too. What will he do now? He’ll figure it out.”

Not only. Oscar night also kicks that temptation ofinspiration porn that is taking off so much, so that disabled people are transformed into super heroes and put on a pedestal. In fact, in this way one category of people (those with disabilities) is reduced to an object for the benefit of another category (the able-bodied) who can look at them and think inspiredly: «As much as I complain about my life, it could be worse. I could be that person» (Martina Fuga wrote about it here).

«Yesterday’s images also undermine that narrative of success, of the possibilities within everyone’s reach if you believe in it, of the praise of those who arrive and who have made it and who want to redeem all the others, which is something a bit ‘ paternalistic and that belittles the path of those who can’t make it, because we all know that in disability everyone has their potential but also their limits “, underlines Fuga. «James Martin was simply there with himself, his talent and his desire to express himself. He wins the Oscar one out of a thousand, it’s not that he indicates a road, but it’s like reminding everyone that even I, with my efforts, can say what I want, what I think, what I am. This is the great power of that stage».

In short, with shots of images – films, advertising, media presences – «one acts on perception, eradicates prejudices and educates the gaze. With shots of images, the mentality of the beholder will slowly change and the foundations will be laid for building a truly inclusive society. It is a very slow cultural revolution, but one that is worth doing», concludes Fuga.

The cover image is by Avalon/Sintesi. The other is from the official trailer of “An Irish Goodbye”

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