The Great Beauty (La Grande Bellezza)

Though Dadina is a little person and a cultural journal editor with blue hair, she’s hardly the most colorful character in The Great Beauty. That dubious distinction rightly belongs to the performance artist she assigns her protagonist friend Jeb to write about, who headbutts an ancient wall while nude in her performances. Jeb presses Talia Concept to explain her art, but when she can’t she becomes irate and demands “a journalist of greater stature”. Jeb advises her to use caution when using that phrase around his editor, because “she’s a dwarf!” Later he regrets using that exchange in his article and asks Dadina if he should have left it out. “But that was the best part!” she replies.

A friend comes to beg Jeb for assistance in obtaining help for her mentally ill son, but he doesn’t know what to do beyond giving her the phone number of a psychiatrist. The son makes a few dramatic entrances, most notably with his face painted entirely red, making the non-religious Jeb wonder about the influence of Satan.

Jeb has a brief romance with a stripper named Ramona, who has an unexplained invisible disability or illness. Though she looks healthy, she needs to spend a lot of time unmoving, and tells Jeb that she spends all of her earnings trying to cure herself. It’s likely that few people take her seriously about it–even her father thinks she’s probably just a junkie–but she dies suddenly and without explanation.

The final depiction of disability is due to advanced age, in the form of a “bona fide saint”. Sister Maria is so decrepit that Jeb worries every breath will be her last, and she only stirs to talk if it’s to utter something holy. She holds an audience with the faithful in which she seems to have symptoms of Parkinson’s, tapping one foot until the shoe comes off and unnerving the dignitaries assembled to see her. She further upsets her caregivers by insisting on dragging herself up several flights of stairs to worship an ancient painting of Christ.

Comedian Ricky Gervais defends dwarfism sitcom

From AAS via Media Dis n Dat:

Ricky Gervais has defended his new sitcom centred around Warwick Davis, insisting he doesn’t rely on the dwarf actor’s short stature for the show’s jokes.

Gervais and his writing partner Stephen Merchant recruited the Harry Potter star, who was born with dwarfism, for upcoming TV comedy Life’s Too Short, about a dwarf actor running a struggling showbiz agency.

But The Office funnyman told Britain’s Absolute Radio Breakfast Show he doesn’t poke fun at Davis’ disability in the series.

“This is nothing to do with his height. We’re not getting jokes out of him being short all the time, we’re getting jokes out of him being militant or ripping off other dwarves. He runs an agency, both in real life and in this one. In this one it’s called Dwarves for Hire and of course he’s just ripping them off. He’s getting all the best jobs for himself and he treats them like commodities and props.

“It’s not the real Warwick Davis, he’s not really like that. We’ve created a character here, a little Mussolini (dictator). And it’s not all jokes about his height, it’s much more about his character.”

Gervais previously worked with Davis on a 2005 episode of his TV hit Extras.

Elf

It’s not uncommon for little people to play elves in Christmas movies, but Elf bucks tradition a bit by casting people of average stature as the elves (through the cinematic technique of forced perspective), and a single little person (Peter Dinklage) as a highly paid children’s book author with an attitude.

Disability themes are hinted at; throughout the movie, especially during the beginning scenes at the North Pole, Buddy the Elf notices he’s different from the other elves. He can’t make toys as fast as they can, and though his elf supervisor tries to cheer him up by pointing out all the things Buddy excels at–like changing the lightbulbs every six months–behind his back they gripe that he’s slowing them down. Buddy overhears one such conversation, and is sent to the equivalent of a sheltered workshop for “special elves” (here the word “special” is used as a pejorative) where he performs repetitive busywork. A maniacal Jack-in-the-Box terrifies Buddy, and Santa must intervene.

Santa tells Buddy that he’s really been human all along, and must go to New York in search of his biological father. Buddy catches the next ice floe out of there, but after a socially awkward reunion with Walter Hobbs, his reluctant father believes Buddy is mentally ill.

Buddy persists in trying to form a relationship with his father, and (after an unusually quick paternity test) Walter is convinced of his duty to Buddy. He takes him home to a very understanding wife and son for nurturing, but after realizing he cannot leave Buddy alone in an unfamiliar world, takes him to work in the hopes he’ll sit quietly in the corner.

Buddy barges in on a meeting with the aforementioned children’s book author Miles Finch and mistakes him for one of his elf compatriots. Miles takes offense, lists his accomplishments (houses in various cities, plasma TVs, more “action” than Buddy’s ever seen), and challenges Buddy to “Call me elf, one more time!” Unaware of the human world’s sad history of labelling assertive disabled people as “angry”, Buddy whispers that he must be an “angry elf”.

Miles charges down the length of the conference table and opens up a travel-size can of whoopass. Someone’s been taking his adaptive martial arts lessons. Watch the full “Angry Elf” scene (unfortunately not embeddable). The scene is played for laughs, but such a beatdown is quite possible; little people do have normal or almost normal strength in their arms and legs. Combined with a low center of gravity, judo training, and the element of surprise, and it’s small wonder that Miles prevails.

Interestingly, the Elf Original Motion Picture Score lists the incidental music track for that scene as “Attack of the Little People”. The words “dwarf” and “midget”, currently considered pejorative, aren’t uttered in Elf. The producers show a sensitivity to disability issues, and even wring some humor out of them.