Windy City Media Group Frontpage News


home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2022-06-08



MOVIES Susan Nussbaum on Hollywood's 'Code of the Freaks'
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond

This article shared 838 times since Thu Dec 15, 2016
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

It's Oscar-baiting season—the time of year when Hollywood heaves out its best scripts, actors, directors, costume, set and make-up artists all in the hope of winning the statue next February.

Some of Hollywood's most exploitative Oscar-beggars have discovered that if you make a film about a person with a disability starring a cisgender A-lister who Method acts their way through two-plus hours of gut wrenching line delivery while punching various parts of their non-CGI-contorted body for added dramatic effect, the Academy is guaranteed to smile kindly upon them and so yield extra gold in future Blu-ray sales.

However, those who actually live with disabilities have seen enough and they want movie goers to know why.

A Kickstarter campaign launched by filmmaker Salome Chasnoff, UIC faculty members Alyson Patsavas and Carrie Sandahl alongside acclaimed writer Susan Nussbaum aims to raise the $30,000 needed to make the documentary Code of the Freaks—"a blistering critique of Hollywood representations of disabled characters that gives the mic to some of Hollywood's most incensed and ignored critics — actual disabled people."

Nussbaum is an award-winning author and playwright. At 24, she was struck by a car and became wheelchair-bound for the rest of her life. An impassioned activist for all but particularly the disabled, Nussbaum's book Good Kings, Bad Kings won her the 2012 PEN BELLWETHER Prize and critical acclaim.

Nussbaum spoke with Windy City Times about Code of the Freaks and what she and her talented ensemble hope to accomplish with the film.

Windy City Times: You are raising money for this documentary at the perfect time of year in the film world.

Susan Nussbaum: They love inspiration this time of year, and inspirational disability films are among their favorites.

WCT: You noted on Kickstarter that even an uplifting message about a disabled person's life can be damaging.

SN: I think the uplifting part has a lot to do with certain formulas that Hollywood employs when it's using a disability-themed story or narrative and there's various ways in which they do it. Often, at the end, the disabled character is cured so they've been normalized. Or, at the end, the disabled character is killed and the non-disabled protagonist has been taught a good lesson from the disabled character and will now go on to be a better person. There's all sorts of outcomes: the disabled character being the villain is very common.

This kind of imagery has nothing to do with the lives of people with disabilities and, when we [disabled people] see these kinds of things in movies, we think 'what are they talking about? That has nothing to do with my experience.' I am a human who is struggling to survive day-to-day as we all are. There are times that I will go to a movie with a disabled character and be just horrified by what I see. I don't want the lights to come up because I feel ripped off and damaged and I don't want people to come up to me and get in my face and say 'it's great to see you out of the nursing home.' There's a lot of micro-aggressions that are a result of what people learn about us in the movies.

WCT: I recall when the David Lynch film The Elephant Man came out, the BBC documentary QED noted that neurofibromatosis sufferers ( one of Joseph Merrick's earliest theorized diagnoses ) were traumatized by it, thinking that was the life they were bound to lead. It also led to a dramatic increase in bullying. Is that generally the rule?

SN: Non-disabled writers, producers, directors and actors all put their own narrative on these characters. They imagine, incorrectly, that all that disabled people are, by definition, miserably unhappy when, in fact, the misery part comes as a result of systemic conditions that are oppressive. In the health care system, they are very objectifying, humiliating—these are things that still go on and don't end.

There is a real problem with the kinds of perspectives of the people who make these films. They don't know anything. They may do their research. They may talk to some doctors or they might go and 'observe' disabled people at hospitals, institutions; all these horrible places and that's where they get their ideas.

WCT: In your book, one of the antagonists says, 'I can be a good king or a bad king.' When we talk about Hollywood filmmakers focusing on disabilities, are they all bad kings? Is that over-generalizing?

SN: No, I don't think it is. It goes way beyond stereotyping. There are parallels in the way African-Americans were portrayed, or LGBTs. There needs to be input, in a substantial way, from writers and directors and performers who are actually disabled. Right now, there is no place in Hollywood for a disabled person.

WCT: There have been one or two exceptions. Marlee Matlin comes to mind. But there have been points in her career where it seems she has been exploited sometimes even for comedy.

SN: I cannot even begin to imagine what Marlee had to put up with as a deaf actor in Hollywood.

WCT: In your life, finding your way following the car accident, when you see these films, do you feel like they trivialize your own journey?

SN: It's not so much a trivialization as it is the way the public is taught to view what is best when dealing with 'the problem of disabled people.' In the [Clint Eastwood] film Million Dollar Baby, it was made acceptable to kill the disabled character one week in before she'd had time to even speak to another disabled person. The story was manipulated in a way that the disabled character herself begged to be euthanized. It was only after great soul searching that the Clint Eastwood character decided to kill her. I think that it let the audience off the hook. I think people found that inspirational and so uphold the disabled character as an example of courage because she chose to kill herself rather than live that 'unlivable life.'

That's something you end up struggling against—the notion that your life is somehow not as desirable as it would be if you were 'normal'. It is not acceptable that our lives are seen as so burdensome; that they must be burdensome to us. They aren't but these are the kind of narratives that non-disabled people find romantic about disability. The death of a disabled person is much more exciting than imagining the life of a disabled person. When I became disabled, I remember thinking 'what do I know about disabilities?' All knew was what I remember from the movies. I ran through that imagery in my mind and the first character I thought of was Quasimodo and Baby Jane and how she tortured her invalid sister. So all of this imagery ran deep for me and did more to mess with my mind than anything. People know nothing about us and they don't understand that life is hard but it is good.

WCT: So it seems like the seed of Code of the Freaks was planted a long time ago. When did the idea to make the documentary take shape?

SN: Salome [Chasnoff], Alyson [Patsavas], Carrie [Sandahl] and I all knew each other. I was working with a disability rights organization at the time. Because of my love of movies, I decided to string together a bunch of small clips. A lot of people came to watch the result. They were mostly disabled people and it was mind-blowing because they had never really been able to put together the fact that there were that many movies that were so dangerous, absurd or hilariously off-the-mark. Like any group of people who discover new ideas, the knowledge takes the shame off you and places it where it belongs.

WCT: The name of the documentary is taken from the Tod Browning film Freaks. Do you believe that Hollywood filmmakers are purveyors of a modern-day carnival sideshow?

SN: I haven't gone that far, but I think you're right. I think we are seeing disabled people acted out on the screen and the imagery is made for gawking purposes; for the majority of people who are not disabled to think 'Wow. That's not me. I feel good because I'm so lucky.'

WCT: Will the documentary offer any solutions to either filmmakers or filmgoers?

SN: What we're doing is raising questions that have never been raised. We want to encourage people who see a film about a disabled person to step back, think about what they're seeing and ask themselves 'what is the message?' 'What does that have to do with the lives of actual people?' I believe that real change happens from the ground up. Hollywood's not going to change. So we need to see that there is a problem and realize how horribly isolating and unfair it is to imagine what a person's life experience is from watching a movie. The movies are not the place to find out. They don't require a lot of thought or questioning. They push buttons and give you what you came for but it is a thought-free way of looking at it.

We should, all of us, know that popular entertainment is going to give us just enough information to keep us happy. There are loads of alternative ways to get your information but you have to be careful about that too. Most people don't want to discriminate but we live under an economic system that encourages us to categorize and that's what we're used to. It complicates everything.

To donate to the Kickstarter campaign, visit

This article shared 838 times since Thu Dec 15, 2016
facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email


Gay News

SHOWBIZ Jane Lynch, Dwayne Johnson, 'Star Trek,' Beyonce, Shea Coulee 2022-08-07
- NBC has renewed the Jane Lynch-hosted game show Weakest Link for a third season, Variety noted. Season three will run for 20 episodes. The series is based on a British format distributed by BBC Studios that ...

Gay News

TELEVISION 'They/Them' cast members reflect on making the film 2022-08-06
- They/Them (pronounced "They-slash-Them") is a new 2022 film from Blumhouse Productions in which the terrors of an LGBTQ+ conversion camp invade the lives of a diverse group of young people who spend a summer together. The ...

Gay News

Actress Anne Heche in critical condition after car crash 2022-08-06
- Actress Anne Heche reportedly crashed her car into a house in the Mar Vista neighborhood of Los Angeles on Aug. 5, setting both the vehicle and the house on fire, according to CNN. She is now ...

Gay News

TELEVISION Darwin Del Fabro ('They/Them') talks horror, love scenes and inner strength 2022-08-04
- Queer Brazilian singer/actor Darwin Del Fabro is one of the cast members of the horror movie They/Them (pronounced "they-SLASH-them")—a slasher movie (get it?) set ...

Gay News

THEATER 'Cabaret' coming to Metropolis Arts on Sept. 15 2022-08-02
- Musical Broadway classic and hit film Cabaret re-creates the decadent and complicated world of 1929 Berlin at the Arlington Heights venue Metropolis Performing Arts Centre on Sept. 15-Oct. 22. Cabaret is Kander and Ebb's legendary musical ...

Gay News

Billy Masters 2022-08-01
- "Mike, you's in danger, man."—Whoopi Goldberg paraphrases her line from Ghost (or, as Barbara Walters always called it, The Ghost) in response to Pence's former aide Marc Short revealing what almost happened to the VP on ...

Gay News

SHOWBIZ Comic Con, WNBA player, Timothee Chalamet, Kate McKinnon 2022-07-31
- Out Magazine listed at least seven LGBTQ+-related characters and projects that were unveiled at San Diego Comic Con. Some of them include Michaela Coel (from TV's I May Destroy You) as a queer character in the ...

Gay News

Gene Siskel Film Center running 'Pioneers of Queer Cinema' 2022-07-31
- In partnership with the UCLA Film & Television Archive, the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. Clark St., presents differing, often radical explorations of sexual orientation and gender identity in the series "Pioneers of Queer Cinema." ...

Gay News

Billy Masters 2022-07-24
- "First of all, I'm glad to have a president who can ride a bicycle."—Pete Buttigieg's response to Rep. Troy Nehls' quip that Biden "falls off bicycles." Anyone can sue over anything. There is no guilt or ...

Gay News

SHOWBIZ Broadway, 'Game of Thrones' prequel, Dexter Mayfield, Shania Twain 2022-07-24
- The Broadway League announced that theaters will continue their recently adopted mask-optional policy for audiences at least through August, Deadline reported. The mask-optional policy—in which audiences are encouraged but not ...

Gay News

Quidditch organizations cite Rowling's anti-trans statements in acquiring new name 2022-07-21
- Major League Quidditch, the real-life semi-pro league inspired by the magical contests played by wizards in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels and their film adaptations, now has a new name. ...

Gay News

SHOWBIZ Queen + Adam Lambert, Spider-Man, 'Victoria's Secret,' 'Friends' 2022-07-10
- Queen + Adam Lambert announced details of "Rhapsody Over London"—an exclusive concert spectacular filmed live at London's O2 Arena during their current sold-out European tour that will premiere live on July 24 via Kiswe's global streaming ...

Gay News

WORLD Slovenia marriage item, Antigua and Barbuda, Berlin mosque 2022-07-10
- In Slovenia, the Constitutional Court legalized same-sex marriage and adoptions after finding a law under which only heterosexual partners can marry and same-sex couples cannot adopt children to be in contravention of the constitutional ban on ...

Gay News

A League of Their Own series slides into Prime Video 2022-07-07
- Inspired by the 1992 film A League of Their Own, a new eight-episode series of the same name is set to premiere on August 12, 2022, on Prime Video. ...

Gay News

SHOWBIZ JoJo Siwa, NFL player, gay country singer, 'Bliss,' MGK 2022-07-03
- LGBTQ+ teen sensation JoJo Siwa will guest-star in the third season of Disney+'s hit series High School Musical: The Musical: The Series, Out Magazine noted. She will play Madison, a Camp Shallow Lake alum. Also, Corbin ...


Copyright © 2022 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.







About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Advanced Search     
Windy City Queercast      Queercast Archives     
Press  Releases      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast      Blogs     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam     
Privacy Policy     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.