Attending this screening, I found myself salty for having to climb so many stairs to find a seat. Not one time did I think about how challenging that task is for someone who is not able bodied with two seemingly good working legs. Until I screened Crip Camp. After all, I understand what being different is. Being different is a part of my daily world as a woman of color but being ostracized and treated unfairly simply because you are physically different is a whole other ballgame. When I heard that a fellow critic was being treated with blatant disrespect at another festival screening last year, I was mortified. Needless to say, I am positive that all those protests, sleeping on the floor mattresses with a lack of food and showers is NOT what the “504” had in mind as they fought for their civil rights to get the Americans Disabilities Act law enacted to protect and make the world for those with a disability a better place to navigate in. Let me introduce you to Crip Camp.
Just down the road from Woodstock, Camp Jened was a camp for disabled teens. Former camper and sound engineer for the Berkeley Rep, Jim LeBrecht speaks candidly and firsthand the seeds of empowerment planted within this unique group of campers turned activists who ultimately shaped the future of the disability-rights movement changing accessibility legislation for everyone. Filled with the spirit, music, and humor of the 70’s era and incredible home movie camp footage from lovingly captures how the campers were finally seen beyond their disabilities spotlighting not only LeBrecht’s story, but stories of several Camp Jened alums, including then-counselor Judy Heumann.
Heumann was literally the Jane Fonda of the disability community. She encouraged others to stand up for their rights and never, never gave up playing an indispensable role in history. Crip Camp shines a bright light on an overlooked civil-rights battle that sparked change and completely shattered the trajectory of the types of lives others without disabilities never thought about twice. Living in such a divisive world right now, it warmed my heart and put a fire in my belly watching these men and women who were lucky enough to have parents that encouraged them to pursue a life without boundaries or chains. Having just celebrated Dr. King’s birthday, he would be proud that his legacy on equality has extended well beyond the color one’s skin. Just like within the black community with a skin color hierarchy, apparently there is hierarchy amongst the disabled making those with Polio less disabled than someone who as Spina Bifida like LeBrecht.
It also bears to mention that former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama are Executive Producers making this project even more special while shining a glaring spotlight on disability hierarchy. They both could say more about this Netflix film than I ever could. “Watching Crip Camp for the first time, I was reminded of how rare it is to see teenagers with disabilities on a big screen being just that: teenagers. Laughing and smiling with sweet summer crushes and streaks of fierce independence.
At the end of the day Crip Camp captures the complexities and humanity of those living with disabilities with an incurable spirit and resilience that should be revered globally.