We don’t see many films coming out of Hollywood with
disabled characters played by disabled actors. And, it’s downright rare for
such films to be critically acclaimed. There was a time when it was almost
commonplace for typically developed actors to earn an Emmy for playing characters
with intellectual or developmental disabilities (I/DD).
While Hollywood moves more slowly, the industry is making
progress. Independent production companies are taking the lead on making sure
we have movie options that represent people with disabilities fairly and
authentically. Accurate representation promotes inclusion and understanding in all
To help you find movie options featuring actors with I/DD we
have put together the following list with movies that include and often star actors
with I/DD. Trailers are linked below.
Peanut Butter Falcon” Adventure-Comedy-Drama, 2019
Zak, played by Zack Gottsagen, who has Down
Syndrome, runs away from his assisted-living facility to attend a wrestling
school and become a professional wrestler. Stowing away on a small fishing
boat, he becomes friends with the boat’s owner (played by Shia LeBeouf) as they
make their way downriver. “Peanut Butter Falcon” was the highest grossing independent
film in 2019.
Camp: A Disability Revolution” Documentary, 2020
“Crip Camp” looks back at Camp Jened, located in the New
York Catskills. In the 1950s and 60s Camp Jened welcomed people with
disabilities. It was a time when those with disabilities were often
institutionalized and not welcome at mainstream summer camps. “Crip Camp” shows
us the experiences of campers and the revolutionary spirit surrounding the
camp. Many campers went on the be leaders in the U.S. disability rights
the Change” Romance, 2017
In “Keep the Change” David played by Brandon Polansky who
has autism, is sent to Connections, a program for people who have autism. Sarah,
played by Samantha Elisofon who also has autism, becomes attracted to him and romance
blossoms. Rated NR for sexuality.
of the Bells” Romance, 2019
Scott, played by RJ Mitte who lives with cerebral palsy,
finds his biological mother Carol, played by Andrea Fay Friedman, who has Down
syndrome. While “Carol of the Bells” shares the Christmas message of family and
forgiveness, Scott’s grandmother is determined to protect her daughter, Carol, from
Scott and his wife. “Carol of the Bells” was produced by Inclusion Films, owned
by Joey Travolta (brother of John Travolta). It also features a special cameo
by Geri Jewell, recognized as the first primetime actor with cerebral
Summer Ever” Musical, 2021
Catch it while it’s hot! “Best Summer Ever” is scheduled for
release on April 27. This fresh take on the teen musical genre of boy meets
girl emphasizes inclusion. It features eight original songs and a fully
integrated cast and crew with and without disabilities.
“Best Summer Ever” is a film by Zeno Mountain Farm.
Originally called the Cheshire Project, the goal was to bring friends together
to make a movie, Hollywood style. Along the way they, “realized that no one was
making films that featured people with disabilities, particularly ones that do
not focus on the disability. Our films were about pirates, time travelers, and
Zac Efron and people loved them!” So, they made more and are now part of Zeno
Mountain Farm, a host to annual camps and retreats in Vermont for people with
and without disabilities. Many “campers” come back year after year for “Film
Camp,” and are part of an inclusive group tackling ever larger film productions.
A western short, also from Zeno Mountain Farm, stars people with
disabilities who must save their beloved Bulletproof saloon from the evil
Bulletproof” Documentary, 2014
A feature-length documentary “Becoming Bulletproof” about
the making of “Bulletproof” took home honors at more than that 20 film
“Bulletproof” and “Becoming Bulletproof” here along with many other short films
from Zeno Mountain farm.
the Dud” Spoof, 2017
Jeremy the Dud is an irreverent comedy short set in an opposite
world where everyone has a disability. Those who don’t are treated with the
same prejudice, stigma and condescending attitudes people with disabilities often
face in our society.
Movies that don’t focus on disability
While we work toward seeing more people with disabilities in
movies that aren’t about the disability, as Zeno Mountain Farm does, we must
point out a few films that have flown under the radar in years past. You might
not have known that actors and even leads in the following films have
“Ghostbusters, Trading Places, The Blues Brothers, Driving
Miss Daisy, Ghostbusters: Afterlife”
Dan Aykroyd was diagnosed with Tourette’s as a child. As an
adult, he found he has autism spectrum disorder, which helps to explain his
long-time obsession (his words) with ghosts and police badges. He credits his
obsession with prompting the Ghostbusters movie. Ghostbusters: Afterlife is
Aykroyd’s latest film and is due to be released on November 11, 2021.
Honorable Mentions: Actors and their movies worthy of conversation
Several award-winning actors with epilepsy came up in our
research. While epilepsy is considered a developmental disability many “grow
out of it” or manage their condition living relatively typical lives. We have
included the following because the movies aren’t about disability and it’s not
uncommon for people with other developmental disabilities to have seizure
disorders. Having a conversation about the actor and their disability may be
“Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, V for Vendetta”
Hugo Weaving played Agent Smith in The Matrix trilogy,
Elrond in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, the freedom
fighter known as “V” in V for Vendetta as well as appearing other films. Weaving
lives with epilepsy and has been medicated for 30 years. After running out of
his medication on a movie set in the desert, he found out the drugs were
masking an anxiety disorder.
“The Color Purple, BOPAH!, The Royal Tenenbaums, Witness,
Places in the Heart, Lethal Weapon”
Danny Glover played many notable roles throughout his
career, most worth watching again. Glover had epilepsy as a child and as he
began to recognize warning signs, he “got a bit stronger and the symptoms began
to diminish.” He works to bring awareness to epilepsy through the Epilepsy
Before we go
Easterseals Disability Film Challenge
If you enjoy short films like Bulletproof, then you’ll like the
Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. They have a wide selection of films from
their annual weekend film challenge for filmmakers with disabilities. It’s a big
hit and huge opportunity for aspiring actors and film makers. You can stream over 200
short films and watch their 2021
Virtual Award Show on May 6.
Checkout our lists for television
and streaming media and Children’s books,
both featuring people with disabilities.