During my PE class in freshman year of high school, my best friend and I were frolicking around the gymnasium laughing and spewing off quotes from The Ringer. Another girl approached us and asked us how we could possibly find a movie that made fun of mentally challenged people to be funny. She then followed up with the fact that we have a “special girl” in our class, and we should at least have the heart to keep the “stupid quotes” to ourselves for the next hour.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the movie, here is the trailer:
As you have probably already guessed, the girl shut us up. In about 30 seconds, I went from hysterically laughing to feeling incredibly uncomfortable. However, this uncomfortableness didn’t stem from my own actions, but instead from the girl’s misunderstanding that our intention was to make fun of those with disabilities. Obviously one of us had interpreted the movie wrong — for I had never seen The Ringer as offensive towards those with disabilities. First of all, I saw the release of The Ringer as a breaking moment for the disabled community. The movie features more than 150 actors with intellectual disabilities — far more than any other Hollywood film has ever had before. Furthermore, the characters do not take on the role of the stereotypical victims, villains, or heros that often make up the representation of disabilities within Hollywood. Instead, the characters are not only fully rounded and genuine, but also very talented at producing comedy. They invite the audience to not laugh at them, but with them. Through their humor, the characters emphasize not their disability, but their inherent humanity filled with their own unique abilities, quirky thoughts, and lovable personalities.
*SPOILER ALERT* Throughout the movie, Johnny Knoxville, the star of MTV’s Jackass, comes to respect his fellow disabled athletes as equals and accepts them as close friends (Yes. If anything… The Ringer should be critiqued for its predictable plot). I saw this plot as an attempt to draw in teenagers — your typical teenage boy who watches Jackass — and transform the negative attitude they hold towards those with disabilities in the same way that Knoxville was transformed throughout the movie. With the production of The Ringer, a new door in the entertainment world was pried open to the uncharted territory of disabilities. Yet, the fact remains that disabilities continue to be almost absent from American film and television. People are still not comfortable with disabilities. They don’t know how to appropriately deal with them. Therefore, the easiest thing for them to do is to either not put themselves in a situation where they have to deal with disabled people, or to superficially stick up for them from a distance without actually taking the time to understand. The girl in my P.E class took the second route. She in fact had never seen The Ringer. Instead, she merely jumped to the conclusion that any movie about disabilities would be negative. During an interview, Peter Farrelly, one of the producer’s of The Ringer and a longtime volunteer with Best Buddies, stated: “My whole point in making this movie is to make people with mental disabilities accessible, make people know who they are and feel comfortable with them.” Unfortunately, the girl in my P.E. class never allowed Farrelly the chance to accomplish this goal.