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It only takes one film to change your view about disability. Mine was “Margarita, With a Straw”

Tuesday March 22nd, 2016
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It only takes one film to change your view about disability. Mine was “Margarita, With a Straw”

It only takes one film to change your view about disability. Mine was “Margarita, With a Straw”

Tuesday March 22nd, 2016 / 0 Comments 0 Comments

Photo credit: Justin Ellis

Last week at the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York, I went to see a film called Margarita, With a Straw. This film, among many others throughout the city, was screened as part of this month’s ReelAbilities Film Festival to promote awareness and appreciation of the lives, stories and artistic expressions of people with different abilities. The organization engages in this endeavor by showcasing films, conversations and artistic programs to explore, embrace and celebrate the diversity of our shared human experience. It is all too often we see characters with disabilities in media defined by their disability rather than their human character- full, complex, deep and fascinating just as any other- and this festival is dedicated to changing that along with our perceptions of who they are and their capabilities.

Margarita, With a Straw takes us on the journey of a young Indian woman with cerebral palsy who decides to transfer from her local college to New York University in order to complete her writing studies. Our protagonist, Laila (Kalki Koechlin), is limited in her movement and speech, but her instinctual desire for independence and acceptance is quite similar to that of any college-aged adult seeking to understand themselves and the greater world. It is through her lens that we as the audience collectively experience her lighthearted and stern encounters with family dynamics, independent living, friendship, ableism, culture shock, and one issue that we as a society have long-struggled to address even as it pertains to people without disabilities- sex.

The film exposes us to the issue of sex with a visual and logistical realism that originates with discomfort, leads to curiosity and concludes with empathy. Laila’s experiences are honest and multi-faceted, addressing sexual identity and relationships of varying depth. Director Shonali Bose challenges us to let go of what some would imagine to be limitations and issues regarding sex and people with disabilities- mental and physical fragility, process, self-consciousness- and wholeheartedly shows us that we are all human beings with the same hormonal drive and aptitude for intimacy and companionship.

Before I entered the theater, I did not think I would walk away with such a deep appreciation for Laila’s journey. This was my first time attending the ReelAbilities Film Festival and viewing cinema that tackled personal and societal issues many able-bodied individuals- such as myself- never naturally contemplate. As I walked to the museum I wondered how this film would speak to me, if at all. What would I gain from these 97 minutes on a Sunday afternoon? And as I took my seat, seeing those around me, I contemplated what my fellow audience members- many of whom had disabilities- would take away from this piece of art imitating the life, dreams, fears and experiences they could understand far better than I.
Some of these questions I have begun to answer- others I still consider- but what I can say for certain is that this is a film that will challenge you regardless of your connection to disability. It will make you laugh and cry, and provide the unique opportunity to walk in the shoes of a character whose tenacity to live in the “normal” world comes with the same independent triumphs, tribulations and evolving calculus we all experience. And that, in itself, is beautiful.


The ReelAbilities Film Festival comes to Boston April 3-14. Check here to find out when it is coming to your city.


Justin Ellis is the Social Media Coordinator of the Ruderman Family Foundation who was first connected to the issue of disability through his sister, an award-winning special education teacher. Outside the Foundation he is an avid lover of Middle Eastern history and communication psychology.

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