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By Michael McNeely | February 24, 2021

SLAMDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Verisimilitude is a word that means “the appearance of being true or real.” Due to the phenomenon of “cripping up,” whereby able-bodied actors play people with disabilities, verisimilitude is an important concept to keep in mind. Many able-bodied actors, from Tom Hanks to Maddie Ziegler, have commodified the lived experience of disability to make a name for themselves.

Verisimilitude, directed by David Proud, understands that disability representation often lies in the goodwill of people without disabilities. Ruth Madeley, who was excellent in Years and Years and has spina bifida shines as Bella. The aspiring actor uses a wheelchair and feels obligated to use monologues replete with ableism for her auditions to gain credibility while hoping to tap into what others cannot: actual lived experience. The conundrum she finds her in is that those monologues were, no doubt about it, written by people without disabilities, so her lived experience may not be “realistic” enough.

“…an aspiring actor who uses a wheelchair and feels obligated to use monologues replete with ableism for her auditions to gain credibility…”

However, Bella is also a disability consultant on a film entitled Great Scott, about a Paralympic Games medal-winning athlete, who is being played by an able-bodied actor, Josh (Laurie Davidson). Josh is your stereotypical egotistical navel-gazing actor who thinks that he is doing the disability world a favour by playing someone who is so inspirational. The film is really about the one-sided battle that Bella unwittingly finds herself in – whether her dignity and self-worth are more important than a paycheque or recognition at making it in showbiz, regardless of what the position may be and what it may require her to do.

This film ‘gets it’ – gets all the sacrificed dreams and lived experiences that have fallen to the wayside in Hollywood’s search for “authentic” disability representations that are so far from being realistic that it is no longer a joke (and maybe it never was). Media representations are how many of us view the world around us: and if we are holding people with disabilities responsible for behaving like those characters with disabilities we see on the screen, then we are asking real-life people with disabilities to lose the complexities of themselves and to become empty vessels that we can pour inspiration porn in.

Verisimilitude speaks to the truth of how people with disabilities are represented. Justin Edgar’s smart screenplay finds the honest emotions people feel about how they are perceived and what can be done about it. We need more of this: more calling out the ableism that is rampant all over the place in the entertainment industry. Kudos.

Verisimilitude screened at the 2021 Slamdance Film Festival.

Verisimilitude (2021)

Directed: David Proud

Written: Justin Edgar

Starring: Ruth Madeley, Laurie Davidson, Esther Smith, Simon Lowe, Stephen Boxer, Tom Wainwright, Alice Lowe, etc.

Movie score: 10/10

Verisimilitude Image

"…this film 'gets it' – gets all the sacrificed dreams and lived experiences..."

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