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Films portraying characters with disabilities are often shown in the English classroom. Films such as "Of Mice and Men," "Simon Birch," "To Kill a Mockingbird," "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," "The Glass Menagerie," "Moby Dick," "Gattaca," and "A Beautiful Mind" often show simplistic and stereotypical representations of characters and their disabilities. Although students are frequently encouraged to think critically about a film's structure, themes, or symbolic elements, the authors argue that they should also learn to examine critically the representations of disability in these films. If stereotypical representations of characters with disabilities are not identified and challenged, another generation of people may hold on to outdated and unhealthy assumptions about real people with disabilities. In this article, the authors show what an active reading of "The Mighty," a commonly used film by English teachers adapted from Rodman Philbrick's novel "Freak the Mighty," might look like. "The Mighty" is valuable in that it positively portrays friendships between disabled and nondisabled characters, but the damaging and limited representations of disability that this film offers may perpetuate prevailing stereotypes of disability so that students maintain a stigmatizing viewpoint of persons with disability labels. The authors provide a synopsis of "The Mighty" and then describe an analytical tool--Martin Norden's stereotypic roles--that they think is useful in challenging negative constructions of characters with disabilities in the film. They present Norden's roles and their own critical reading of "The Mighty" as a model for other English teachers to use when "reading" disability in both film and literature. The authors end with recommendations for teachers on how to approach using film in ways that are respectful of people with disabilities and that are accepting of difference in classrooms.


© 2010, National Council of Teachers of English

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