The Disabled on the Big Screen: Is There Really a Bias?

In Everyone has one, Opinion by Gregory Banks

The producers of Murderball, a movie about the wheelchair sport of rugby, which can be as brutally physical as its “able-bodied” counterpart, recently sent out an appeal. They are saying that despite a “heavy” marketing budget and great success at the Sundance Film Festival, people are not going to see it because of a presumed bias against the disabled.

As a disabled person myself, I am painfully aware of the subtle bias that does exist in the world, and the disadvantages that we face not due to our physical inabilities, but by the mental one’s that others possess. I do not doubt that there is a portion of the population who may not go to see such a movie due to the nature of the subject and its wheelchair-bound stars.

However, the appeal I received in the email the other day had several elements that disturbed me. The appeal says, “Our research shows that people are staying away because they have a prejudice; they just don’t want to see certain things at the movies. It appears they don’t want to see disabled people on screen.” I’d truly like to know the details of how their research was conducted, because the amount of praise it received at Sundance, and by the critics, strongly suggest otherwise.

Also, it is a low-budget movie, and a documentary at that, with no celebrities or controversial/political agenda to draw attention to itself.

If someone knows of several “blockbuster” theatrically released documentaries, then I’d love to hear them.

The article makes no mention of the fact that movie ticket prices of $10 or more, plus the DVD rental market which releases films 4 to 6 months after theatrical release now, has all of Hollywood, and especially the theater owners, worried. Nor do they take into account the fact that rugby in general is not a popular or well known (or well understood for that matter) in this country. Adding a wheelchair factor to the sport won’t make it more compelling or understood to the masses.

Lastly, although they say that they have a “heavy advertising budget,” I’ve seen no evidence of what I would consider to be a heavy budget. I haven’t seen it plastered all over my screen each time a commercial comes on, nor have I seen any of the stars on every daytime and nighttime talk show on the air today.

Another thing conspicuously absent from the appeal, I believe, is any mention of how many screens the film opened on. If it’s only a few hundred, then it is not getting the kind of wide exposure that a big budget film would.

While I can’t say for certain why the film hasn’t met the producers’ expectations (perhaps their expectations were unrealistic to begin with?), I can’t help but wonder why movies with over 100 million dollar budgets are allowed to fail for a variety of reasons, but when a small budget movie about disabled people come along, it’s quickly decided that it’s failure is solely because of audiences prejudices? I think it’s condescending to the movie’s stars, and to the disabled community at large. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but it appears to be good.

Sadly, though, it’s in limited release in my area it seems, and even more importantly, it’s just not of the kind of subject matter that makes even me, a wheelchair-bound man, want to rush out to see it. So, why are other non-disabled people considered prejudiced when the very same fact may be true for them as well. The athletes in the piece are the true stars, doing outstanding things.

Instead of worrying about the bottom line, can’t we just revel in that?
Do you agree with Gregory? Let us know. Email us at and join the Online Forum.