Cinematic Portrayals of Disability as Ongoing Crisis

Presented by Dr. Petra Anders (she/her)

(Sponsored by Maryland Relay)

2021 Disability Summit
April 12, 2021 – 10:30 AM-11:00 AM

Twitter: @PA_PetraAnders


As a Disability Studies scholar, who uses a wheelchair to navigate this world, I can get quite fierce while analysing/deciphering ableist cinematic portrayals of disability. Recently, I have been writing about the dramas You’re Not You (USA 2014) and Me Before You (UK/USA 2016) which are linking disability with (un)loveability. This means that the disabled characters feel unworthy of love as well as incapable to love. But as a Film Studies scholar I also know that creating a dramatic conflict around disability is easy. Most audiences will not doubt that being disabled is a tragedy, will they? Moreover, disability can serve as conflict in all kinds of film genres.

How can we use these cinematic portrayals of disability as crisis, which have been perpetuated throughout history, in our favour? Can these portrayals become more than “emotional, relational and artistic offerings” (Hoeksema/Smit 2001: 42) which we learn from? The “disability perspective” – as outlined by Elizabeth Ellcessor and Bill Kirkpatrick in 2019 – suggests that we can discover, uncover or create subversive potential in or around such films as well as empower “new voices” and change “political struggles over power and privilege” (Ellcessor/ Kirkpatrick 2019: 140).


  • Ellcessor, Elizabeth and Bill Kirkpatrick. 2019. ‘Studying Disability for a Better Cinema and Media Studies’, IN FOCUS: Cripping Cinema and Media Studies, Volume 58. No. 4: 139–144
  • Hoeksema, Thomas B., and Christopher R. Smit. 2001. ‘The Fusion of Film Studies and Disability Studies.’, in Christopher R. Smit, and Anthony Enns (eds), Screening disability: Essays on cinema and disability (Lanham, MD: University Press of America), pp. 33–43

Presentation Textual


Dr. Petra Anders is based in Germany. Her research includes cinematic representations of disability, disability studies and gender, and teaching or dance practice. Publications include the chapter ‘More than the “Other”?: On Four Tendencies Regarding the Representation of Disability in Contemporary German Film (2005-2010)’ in Benjamin Fraser’s Cultures of Representation: Disability in World Film Context, ‘Screening Gay Characters with Disabilities’ as part of the blog NOTCHES: (re)marks on the history of sexuality and the chapter ‘Mediale Zuschreibungen. Über die Rolle von Behinderung im Spielfilm’, in Kunst, Kultur und Inklusion. Menschen mit Behinderung in Presse, Film und Fernsehen: Darstellung und Berichterstattung edited by Juliane Gerland, Susanne Keuchel and Irmgard Merkt. Further publications, for example, an essay on disability in Wim Wenders’ films, are forthcoming in 2021.