Every day we read stories about people with cerebral palsy (CP) who overcome the social stigma and perceived limitations of their disability to do amazing things. Three of those individuals who succeeded brilliantly against the odds have been immortalized in film–if you haven’t seen them, we highly recommend you spend an evening or two watching them with your family. All three of these movies are based on true stories and offer proof that the seemingly impossible is no match for the human heart.
Gaby: A True Story (1957) Directed by Luis Mandoki/Starring Rachel Chagall and Liv Ullmann.
The film’s tag line, which appears in the lower-right corner of the movie poster at the left, states, “The mind sets limitations. The heart surpasses them.”
Gaby Brimmer is the child of Austrian refugees living in Mexico. Born with cerebral palsy, Gaby is completely paralyzed, but her mind is unaffected. For the first years of her life, her family believes the prognosis of her doctor, who says she’s “a child of normal intelligence locked inside a body that cannot respond.”
Brimmer’s nurse, credited for teaching Gaby to communicate, notices that she’s resisting food and realizes that she can control her foot. From that point, Gaby learns to write and study, later becoming an internationally respected artist, writer and activist for people with disabilities.
My Left Foot (1989) Directed by Jim Sheridan/Starring Daniel Day-Lewis and Brenda Fricker.
Nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Picture category the year it was released, My Left Foot is the story of Christy Brown, a revered and prolific writer who grew up in Dublin, Ireland in the 1940s and 50s, when people with severe physical difficulties had few options in terms of treatment, and often suffered a social stigma.
Christy’s almost-complete quadriplegia was a result of cerebral palsy. The film, an adaptation of the his autobiographical book, chronicles the trials and tribulations of the writer, from his childhood in near-poverty, living with an uncaring father, who was ashamed of his disabled son, and his mother, who’s convinced her non-verbal son is intelligent and aware of his surroundings. She continues to search for solutions, eventually placing a board and a piece of chalk on the ground near his foot.
In a key scene, Christy observes his father interact with his other sons at home. When his father suggests Christy has no idea of what’s going on, the boy’s frustration erupts, and for the first time, he picks up the chalk and draws a straight line, changing the course of his life forever. Christy Brown eventually married and became one of the most important voices in Irish literature.
Door to Door (2002) Directed by Steven Schachter/Starring William H. Macy and Kathy Baker.
Bill Porter was born with cerebral palsy and, for many years, he was told he was unemployable. But Bill wanted to be a door-to-door salesman in Portland, Oregon, and, not without facing seemingly insurmountable odds, he succeeded—in true heroic fashion!
Bill refused to give up, despite the pain that made walking extremely difficult. Eventually, he won over a hiring manager at Watkins Incorporated, selling the company’s products on a seven-mile route in Portland, which he walked for 40 years. (Wheelchair vans weren’t as prevalent and affordable at the time.) Along the way, he became Watkins’ top-selling salesman and an inspiration to the people along his route.
“Bill Porter’s story is so compelling because it’s about a simple man with cerebral palsy,” said Schachter. “He is unheroic in his deeds, but when you look at the totality of his life, he’s an amazing hero because of the daily obstacles he faces and the odds he’s overcome. He represents a kind of work ethic that’s long gone–a guy who trudges through neighborhoods day after day after day, just connecting with people.”
“Bill Porter is a remarkable man,” Macy said. “I think there are millions of remarkable men and women who, against some formidable odds, get up every day and go to work. You never hear about them. I’ve always been attracted to stories that talk about the ordinary Joe who, without thanks and without fanfare, does his job and touches so many people along the way.”
All three movies are compelling and eye-opening to everyone who takes the time to watch them. Pop some popcorn, sit back, relax, and hit “play.”