Written response by Chloe Tear
Director Ella Glendining describes her film - Is There Anybody Out There? - as a love letter to the disabled community, and I think this truly encompasses what it is. A love letter to the disabled community and an eye-opening, raw and honest awareness session for non-disabled people.
After watching the film, I caught up with Ella to find out more about the key themes and to discuss my own views as a disabled viewer.
While I don’t have the same condition as Ella, I could relate to her need to find others like her. I have cerebral palsy, which is a physical disability where no two people are affected the same.Regardless of disability, it’s human nature to want to find people like ourselves. To relate to other people is what makes us human. I believe this is why finding the disabled community was so crucial in my own journey of self-acceptance. I’m a proud disabled person, yet this wasn’t always the case.
Part of this is down to internalised ableism, which. This is when a disabled person internalises the negative and ableist views of disability that society holds. Ella described this as, “Wishing that you were non-disabled, wishing away your disability, which is very understandable and human. It's hard to be disabled, there are many difficulties that come with physical differences. But it can also be very subtle, which it was for me. It was all about proving myself as a human.”
I believe all disabled people will experience some level of internalised ableism, whether they’re aware of it or not. It was refreshing to see Ella reflect on her own internalised prejudices throughout the film. Especially when pregnant with her son. Alongside the disabled community, it was finding the social model of disability that really solidified my own self-confidence. Ella discusses this, and the medical model of disability, during the film. It’s rare that the medical model is explored for what it is – the need to fix people. Yet it’s more than that, as Ella explored, it’s the obsession to eradicate disability in a way that sells disabled lives as less than, as a burden to society.
While I appreciate that medical advancements can significantly improve quality of life, hiding disability and making changes for people to appear more ‘normal’ does no one a favour. Ella says,
“If the goal is to look more normal, you're never actually going to achieve that. Maybe you’ll look a bit more normal, but you're still going to be disabled. You're still going to look disabled and look different.”
In her words and documentary, Ella illustrates clearly that we don't need fixing, we need the right support in place. And with that, we can go on to achieve and enjoy life.
“We're capable of having wonderful lives. There's so much that's wonderful about being disabled. It's like such a rich perspective on life when you're disabled. It's so frustrating that we can't be valued in the way that we should.”
In the words of Stella Young, you’ve been sold the lie that disability is a Bad Thing. Not only that, it shapes our lives and who we are. If we were to remove disability, we remove and invalidate our perspectives.
“There are many blessings in disguise when you're disabled.” Ella continues “I think you have to be resilient as a disabled person, and I definitely see that as one of my biggest strengths. I don't know who I'd be if I wasn't disabled. That person does not exist. But I very much doubt that I'd be so passionate about something, you know, so passionate about my work and so dedicated and driven.”
Disability is part of society and I’d like to keep it that way. As Ella made the point, we’re not born with prejudice, it’s learnt behaviour. By showing the film in schools, it could empower disabled students and educate non-disabled classmates. It l could enable the next generation to be more aware of the pressures that disabled people face and hopefully eliminate the negative societal view of disability. Anyone can become disabled or have a disabled child. Surely, we owe it to them to dispel the myths and share truth.
‘Is There Anybody Out There?’ shows Ella’s journey to find someone like herself. By her own admission, she was unable to achieve this. However, she said “I had all the realisations that I needed to. I've been on the journey, I've completed it. [...] I was very fixated on finding someone exactly like me, so the revelation that there is no one exactly like me was a turning point.It was very important to me at the end to bring it back to Naomi and the power of the disabled community and make clear that it's a film about not just about the body, but about the soul. It's a film about the power of community and the power of when people who have been othered come together.”
Part of the realisation was that she already had the support from the disabled community and that she could be unapologetically herself without finding someone else who was a mirror-like reflection. Despite these conclusions, I’d add that this film is a beacon for other disabled people to find her. Ella wanted to find belonging amongst the disabled community, this is exactly what she’s given us. A place for disabled people to see themselves.
Ella Glendining’s next venture is a historical drama feature for the BFI. It’ll feature disabled characters on their own journey of self-discovery. I’m confident Ella will make it a true portrayal of disability and I really look forward to seeing it.
If you’ve not already, go and see ‘Is There Anybody Out There?’. It’s in cinemas and on demand.
Chloe Tear is an award-winning disability writer, speaker and activist. She has mild cerebral palsy and is registered blind after starting to lose her sight at the age of 18. Chloe is passionate about public attitudes towards disabled people, accessible employment and disability hate crime. She previously has been named one of the most influential disabled people in Britain through the Shaw Trust Power 100 list. You can find Chloe’s work at www.chloetear.co.uk.