People with disabilities are rarely featured in film. When they are, it’s usually in supporting roles or as stereotypical characters that focus on what they cannot do.
“Becoming Bulletproof,” a documentary about the making of the Western film “Bulletproof” starring people with and without disabilities, goes beyond that typical narrative. Ragtag Cinema showed the film in a special free screening Oct. 6, which was sponsored by Columbia’s Services for Independent Living.
Zeno Mountain Farm, a nonprofit organization based out of Vermont, invites people with disabilities to Los Angeles each year to make a full-length film. The film focuses on A.J. Murray, a man who uses a wheelchair because of his cerebral palsy, and his journey acting with Zeno for the first time.
The film features actors with a variety of disabilities, including Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and Williams syndrome, working alongside people without disabilities. It follows the actors through their arrival at the base camp for filming, pre-production meetings and rehearsals, the costume design process and, of course, filming the movie itself.
Besides the filming process, “Becoming Bulletproof” offers glimpses into the daily lives of the adults with disabilities and their families, capturing their everyday routines in their hometowns across the country. It is an honest, rarely publicized look at what life looks like for people with disabilities and their families, whether physical, mental or developmental.
“Becoming Bulletproof” is unique because of its film-within-a-film setup. It is interesting to see the process of making a low-budget independent film instead of just the polished final product.
More importantly, though, it shows that people with disabilities can be the main actors of a film, not minor parts in cliche roles. They can play diverse characters (including a mayor, hero and villain in “Bulletproof”) and act like any other actors, and they should not be limited based on physical or mental abilities.
“I want (people with disabilities) to have a seat at the table in pop culture,” Murray said near the end of the film.
Especially in 2015, in a time focused on diversity and embracing identities, everyone deserves to have a seat at that table. While people of various ethnicities and gender identities are seeing increased representation in media, people with disabilities are still so often left out. “Becoming Bulletproof” is a step in the right direction toward a more diverse media environment.