This independent ‘Lethal Weapon’-style story embraces full inclusion of people with disabilities in a silly and predictable, but brave and occasionally hilarious movie

By Gary Dietz Twitter: @garymdietz   LinkedIn  My book on Amazon

 

Controversy always swirls around non-disabled actors playing disabled folks. See “Glee” or “Me Before You” and others. Not to mention the often inaccurate and usually underrepresented presence of non-physical disability in film and TV. Should the goal be inclusion? Reflections of real people? Or just as simple as disabled people who can be funny, self-deprecating, and even the hero of the story, no matter how silly that story is?

Special Unit poster

Special Unit poster

Comedian Christopher Titus has written, directed, and starred in a new independent film that attempts to be a broad comedy with major and minor characters who just happen to have disabilities. From me he gets an A+ for the attempt, and a B- for the comedy. Definitely see this film, because it has some genuine laughs and a whole helluva lot to talk about after. Not to mention, that if enough people watch it, perhaps it will be picked up as a 30-minute TV or streaming series (I know that this was attempted a few years back). In a 30-min TV series format, I think the situations and issues Titus and his team clearly have knowledge of and a passion for can be expanded in scope, but tightened in execution. But I digress…

The film opens with a montage of historic and modern news stories showing statistics and attitudes and policies regarding disability throughout the years. We then get introduced to Detective Garrett Fowler, a drunk, crooked cop and wisecracking asshole (Titus) in a too-long, almost 15 minute, story setup. Captain Wynn (Billy Gardell) is his superior who, you guessed it, is sick of Fowler’s antics. To punish him, he and Mayor Tara Small (Cynthia Watros) assign him to deal with the outcome of an ACLU lawsuit where some disabled folks passed the Police Academy but were not allowed on the force.

The Special Unit Team

The Special Unit Team

(Let’s get the terminology stuff out of the way.  The terms “wobblies,” “retarded,” “normal,” “spaz,” “midget,” “extra special retarded,” “mongoloid,” and “short bus with a siren” and others are used in this movie.  I don’t speak that way nor do I condone it. But this movie does speak that way, and it reflects the reality that many people, no matter how wrong, speak that way too. If you are offended by these words, I ask that you turn that tendency off for 1 hour and 41 minutes and, if at the end, you are still upset then I’m cool with thoughtful advocacy against what this film was attempting. Personally I wasn’t terminally offended by this film.)

Detective Fowler interviews the candidates for the four disabled cop slots in one of the funniest scenes of the film. A long series of applicants interact with a drunk, boorish Fowler in some quick shots. At the end of this scene, we understand he has only selected 3 candidates, and the forth self-selects by reflecting (a stereotypical) savant ability in front of Captain Wynn. The four members of Fowler’s team are now Sophie (Debbie Lee Carrington, with a long acting and stuntwoman bio who is a little person), Morgan (Michael Aronin, a renowned comedian and speaker who has CP), Mac (Tobias Forest known for “Weeds” and “The Sessions” who uses a wheelchair), and Alvin (David Figoli, an actor producer who doesn’t have a disability but who plays a man who is a savant).

“School is where most lifetime psychosis is created.”

In the “before” state of Fowler as an asshole, he treats his four recruits as if they are only good for janitorial work. This is a sore point in the disability community, and is well reflected in this scene. But the team does some judo with their assignment and really pulls one over on Fowler in a clever way, forcing him to grudgingly let them do real cop work.

“I don’t get to say I have a 'nice' deficiency. I don’t get to say I am etiquette challenged. I am an asshole.” 

“I don’t get to say I have a ‘nice’ deficiency. I don’t get to say I am etiquette challenged. I am an asshole.”

I won’t spoil too much, but the story is simple and a little predictable. Essentially the team is underestimated, they save the day in a big way (a silly, unlikely, but big and broad way and a little scary considering recent mass shootings). The team is used as PR props but refuse to be used as props, and Fowler quickly grows and treats them as equals and must rely on them to save him, and the day. Trailer:

Here are some things I love about this film

It is completely fearless in how it uses the “R” word and other putdowns to reflect how, unfortunately, many people still talk. But it uses this discomfort for a purpose.  Perhaps the execution of the film doesn’t earn this discomfort, perhaps it does.  That’s up to you.

The film has occasional laugh-out-loud sight and verbal gags, without fearing having people with disabilities be both the brunt of the joke and the deliverers of the jokes to each other and to people without disabilities. In other words, I love the fact that Titus is letting us laugh at and with people with disabilities, just like we would with (or at) anyone.

For example, when we first meet Morgan, a hung over and recently vomited-on-his-shirt Fowler talks slowly and infantilizes the recruits with simple language. Morgan says sarcastically “Don’t worry. We’re all wearing diapers. We can interview while we pee… Is that puke on your shirt?” and gets the upper hand.

“Is that puke on your shirt?”

“Is that puke on your shirt?”

Similarly Sophie, who is kick ass with firearms, says “You’re so out of line!  And retard ain’t gonna cut it.  I am a LITTLE PERSON…  With a gun!”

Fowler himself, in what will be a controversial speech, basically tells the team that if they want to be cops, getting called a retard is going to be the least of their worries. But at the same time, he knows his own emotional disability, and takes the position that he doesn’t have an excuse for it and says “I don’t get to say I have a ‘nice’ deficiency. I don’t get to say I am etiquette challenged. I am an asshole.”

Mac uses a wheelchair, but his real disability is his tinfoil hat and paranoia. Later in the film, after the predicable turnaround and respect that Fowler now has for his team, Mac says “As much as I don’t trust you or the NRA or coconut water, I realize that you’ve helped us all.  And I’ve disarmed the C4 under your (Dodge) Charger.”

“Retard is not gonna cut it.  I am a LITTLE PERSON.  With a gun!”

“Retard is not gonna cut it.  I am a LITTLE PERSON.  With a gun!”

There are some genuinely funny and charming moments in this movie. I think that most people will get the jokes, but people with disabilities or who have family members with disabilities will get them even more.  Ironically, the latter groups could be the most offended. But again, while this is not the perfect movie, it certainly treats all of the outlandish characters (disabled or not) as pretty equal buffoons. Except that in this story the disabled folks are the heros and the typical folks are more often the buffoons and butt of the jokes.

Even the “teaching” material is pretty funny and not that preachy.  For example, in a press conference scene the “typical” people in politics and the press are acting the fool. The newly heroic officers really pull off some funny costumes and interactions. Some unexpected stuff really shows the team as human – not disabled human, but human – and then a cool speech seems kind of preachy. Until you realize what that speech is and who really said it first. It becomes an unexpected punchline that really made me smile.

“As much as I don’t trust you or the NRA or coconut water, I realize that you’ve helped us all.  And I’ve disarmed the C4 under your charger.”

“As much as I don’t trust you or the NRA or coconut water, I realize that you’ve helped us all.  And I’ve disarmed the C4 under your charger.”

Here are some things I found challenging in this film

The start of the film has a really long setup about how Fowler is an asshole, crooked, screwed up, a hard drinker, and has an ex-girlfriend who is the mayor. It’s a full 15 mins before we get to meet the people who will be the “Special Unit” of the title.  It was a bit too long for me.

The tightness of the montage scene where the drunk Fowler was interviewing recruits was great. Many of the other scenes could have used that kind of speed and tightness. And the relationship between Tara the mayor and Fowler is a bit contrived.  It is OK to be contrived in this genre, but just a tad more emotion or even reasons for them to get back together would have been a nice touch.

Sophie and Morgan’s love scene was too short and not bawdy enough considering Titus’ reputation!

And Billy Gardell plays the stereotype of the brash captain well, but is a bit underused. Finally, the movie has some kick ass songs (original songs, I believe). But some of the music underneath some of the scenes with dialog seem to be from a 1980’s VHS film.  Not horrible, but a bit distracting.

Is / should this be a TV series? And was “Special Unit” worth it?

There are so many themes and points in this film from a disability advocacy perspective that are touched on but not fully realized.  Should this be a 30 minute TV series or streaming series?  I think so, because the tightness and focus of just dealing with one or two issues at once in a truly comedic way and having a chance to develop the characters more deeply would be really cool. I understand that this project was previously developed as a pilot for a 30 minute show (that, at least a few weeks ago, you could still see on YouTube). Perhaps this movie will push some folks with money to support expanding and deepening the comedy and the issues – and the employment of great disabled actors and actresses – through a TV series.

Even if that doesn’t happen, this film is a great effort. The humor doesn’t always hit, but when it does it is quite funny. You should give this one a chance, and support it.  Because even if you don’t like it or even if you are offended by it, this project does not treat people with disabilities as second class actors or people. If the jokes happen to fall flat for you, at least you can say “disabled people can try and be funny and fail at it.” For me, more than enough jokes hit and more than enough story (no matter how predicable) was there to make it worth a paid download and a bowl of popcorn.

Available on iTunes (and I assume other platforms) on October 11, 2017. 1 Hour 41 mins

 

I have allowed unmoderated comments on this post.  I reserve the right to delete any comments I want to (it’s my page) or change the settings on this post to be manually moderated at any time.

27. October 2015 · Comments Off on My version of the open letter to Skatepark Facebook Post going around · Categories: Uncategorized

So, by now you have seen this tweet, from 10-Oct-2015:

Here is the special needs version of that story, by me, told much earlier, and published in my 2013 book Dads of Disability™: Stories for, by, and about fathers of children who experience disability (and the women who love them!)  

Skatepark

My attitude about dads is that they need to protect their children for as long as possible based on the child’s individual needs. With that in mind, it may seem that allowing my young son to walk into a skatepark, go up to an unshaven and rattily-dressed skateboarder, introduce himself, and ask in a broken sentence if he can try out his skateboard is a situation I probably wouldn’t have approved of.

But here’s what happened.

image / flickr Ernst Moeksis creative commonsimage / flickr Ernst Moeksis creative commons

Skateboarder looks to Dad for permission. Dad reluctantly nods. Skateboarder says, “Sure” to Son.

Skateboarder takes one hand of Son; Dad takes the other. Son mounts skateboard. Skateboarder and Dad push Son slowly for twenty feet.

Dad prays there is no fall or cuts or sprained or broken bone or worse. (Dad imagines conversation with Son’s mother based on worst-case scenario. Dad quickly ceases that line of thinking.)

Son dismounts with hands held tightly by Dad and Skateboarder. Son remounts and tries again for another twenty feet.

Son says, “All done” and dismounts skateboard. Skateboarder offers to show Son tricks.

Skateboarder shows off for about ten minutes. Impressive tricks. Son, Dad, and Skateboarder have fun doing, watching, and being watched. Time to leave.

Dad tells Skateboarder, “You are very good with my son. Thanks for being so kind.” Skateboarder tells Dad, “I have a 3-year-old child with developmental disabilities. No problem. Your son is a joy.”

Dad and Son walk away. Son and Skateboarder both having taught Dad a number of lessons.

– Gary Dietz

This story is Copyright 2013 by Gary Dietz. I provide permission to share all or part of it as long as you link back to this blog at http://www.dadsofdisability.com

 

 

 

19. October 2015 · Comments Off on The top 10 hateful things people have said about my special needs parenting skills · Categories: advocacy, author queries, book status, lists, parent education

Hi,

This is a completely disingenuous post – my first ever (either here or on my marketing blog).

truth-257158_640Frankly, I am frustrated by the click through rates some bloggers, many “major” publishers, and a lot of minor ones receive with their negative articles and listicles. So, there you go.  A really negative headline. And probably a worthy article, though I would probably recast the title as “The top 10 ways I have overcome negative attitudes about my special needs parenting skills.”

I have actually been actively encouraged by editors to make the headlines controversial and negative to get clicks. And I have heard that essentially the same articles, one cast with a negative headline, and a second one cast with a positive headline, perform differently. Even when the article itself contains essentially the same points.

But, my blog, and my book (at least 99% of it) are positive, or at least built upon a positive attitude after not-so-positive things happen. I invite you to visit my project’s main page at http://blog.dadsofdisability.com/ to read extended free excerpts and reviews.

I hope you can get over my mistruth to get you to my page.  It really isn’t right, and I am sorry if you feel offended.

Instead, support articles, essays, and books with a positive spin.  Positive doesn’t mean rose-colored glasses, happy-assed, no bad news.  But don’t choose manufactured controversy either.

Thanks,

Gary gdietz@garydietz.com

 

The DaDads of Disability book coverds of Disability™ book project addresses the relative scarcity of stories from and about the perspective of fathers whose children experience a disability. The book is for dads, moms, grandparents, specialists (speech, OT, PT, teachers) and more.

You can learn more about how to buy it by CLICKING HERE.

There is nothing negative in it, at least as I intended it.

28. July 2015 · Comments Off on 7 tips on how to plan the perfect beach trip for families with special needs! · Categories: advocacy, parent education, published elsewhere, sites to visit

No money exchanged hands for this guest post for Dads of Disability.

Make your family beach trips fun and relaxing this summer by using these beach hacks for a fun day out with your child with special needs!

1. Call ahead to reserve a beach wheelchair.

Beach wheelchairs are a fun way for your child who uses a mobility-aid to walk along the shore. Most of the time, beaches will be stocked with only one or two beach wheelchairs, so make sure to reserve yours ahead of time!

beach

Via accessible San Diego

2. Accessible entry points.

Do your research beforehand to make sure you’re headed to the accessible entry way to the beach. Most beaches will have parking spots designated for families with special needs right next to one of the ramp entrances to get to the sand. The closer you are to the ramp, the less stress!

3. Mobi-Mats.

Some beaches on the coasts have hard-surfaced mats for wheelchair users to cruise smoothly on the sand. The mats make for a great way for you and your child to explore more of the beach without feeling limited to the space around you.

4. Big beach umbrellas to save your skin.

Renting a big umbrella from beaches is a well worth investment. You won’t have to worry about melting in the sun all day. It’s a great way to keep cool and protect your precious skin.

5. Keep your energy going.

Snacks and water are a must-have for beach trips, so be sure to pack healthy snacks to keep the little ones happy. You can set up at accessible picnic grounds to enjoy your meal, but if you want to pack light, choose a beach with food vendors or restaurants nearby that are wheelchair accessible.

6. Lifeguards on duty.

To ensure your family’s safety, it’s a good precaution to check if your beach has lifeguards on duty to keep an eye out for you and your family. Lifeguards can guide you to accessible restrooms and ramps, and will know the best places for your family with special needs to dine in after a great day at the beach.

7. Accessible restrooms and changing rooms.

Thanks to the ADA, the most common accessible areas in public spaces are the restrooms. However, you can never be too certain all beaches will be accommodating. Be sure to double check the beach you want to go to has wheelchair-friendly facilities if you’re planning a day out with a person using a mobility aid.

This year is the Americans with Disabilities Act’s 25th Anniversary, so please consider supporting full inclusion of people with disabilities by donating to The Arc, or any other disability advocacy non-profit. A great way to give back is by donating through Goodshop, where you can shop at online stores like Old Navy, Expedia, or Vista Print and they will donate a percentage of your purchase to the ADA non-profit, at no cost to you.

Thanks,

Janessa Dayan
Cause Outreach Associate, Goodshop
 
26. June 2015 · Comments Off on Playrific · Categories: Uncategorized

Source: Playrific

This is a great young company doing things with apps for young kids.  Check them out and vote for them to get some branding funding in a Boston-area marketing contest called Brandathon.

Here is the direct link:  http://adclubbrandathon.com/startup/playrific/

Be sure to click the vote button and share to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, pinterest, instagram, etc.

Thanks!

Gary

02. April 2015 · Comments Off on The ‘R’ word on my favorite podcasts · Categories: advocacy, parent education

I love Adam Carolla and Marc Maron for their insight, intelligence, and business acumen.

But they really jar me with their use of the word ‘retarded.’

They would say (have said?) that it would be “PC” (whatever that is) to stop using it.  So, if that is the case, why don’t they use the words “niggardly” and “faggot” just as often?

The argument that words change meaning all the time and if we stop using “retarded” then the next word that comes along will then become a ‘bad word’ is a tired argument.  Perhaps that is the case.  But so what?  Language changes fast.

But as Carolla and Maron both know, being fairly good writers themselves, words change all the time.  And for now, ‘retarded’ should be off the table.

If I am wrong, I dare them both to start using ‘niggardly’ again.  It’s in the dictionary after all.  And wouldn’t they just be victims of the ‘PC’ police if they were to be stopped from using that term?  So guys, I dare you.  If you stand by the fact that you are not PC then don’t just stand on ‘retarded’ as your right to say what you want.  Use those other words too.

Please think about it.

Thanks,

Gary

(P.S. In case you didn’t get it, I am intensely offended by the word ‘niggardly’ but used it here to make a point.)

09. March 2015 · Comments Off on An open letter to the New Hampshire House Finance Committee · Categories: advocacy, money and finance, parent education, video

Here is a letter I provided to the NH House Finance Committee today.  It could have been written in 2013, 2011, 2009, 2007, 2005, 2003, 2001…  You get the idea.  I have tremendous respect for advocates who have been at this for far longer than I.

The video that the letter refers to appears at the bottom of this post.

From:              Gary M. Dietz
Subject:          Wait List / Transition Funding / Developmental Services
Date:               March 9, 2015 (although it could be any year from past decades)

Dear New Hampshire House Finance Committee Members,

I am writing in support of level or even increased funding of the wait list (now called transition funding). My rhetorical outreach is similar to many of the folks you will hear in person today. But my outreach also has political overtones.

Back in the late 1980’s, our state made bipartisan commitments to fund community-based supports for those with developmental disabilities. Not only are community based supports more effective, more humane, and family and community centered, they are less expensive than other supports.

Yet every two years we must come to these “begathons” to remind our elected leaders of past promises, economic sacrifices made by families, and to discuss what government – even a small government – should be doing as a safety net for individuals and families.

I encourage you to watch a short video I put together that describes the political and economic reasons funding the wait list and developmental services makes sense. You’ll note that the date on this video is March 2011, almost 4 years ago to the day. Some of the facts may be slightly out of date, but it just as well could have been March of any of the two year periods before it for the past 30 years. You see, these are our realities. And your vote every two years impacts real families. Families who also understand what family values are.

You can find the video here. (I assure you it is not a slideshow filled with emotional photos of children, although those too are important to watch.) Rather, it contains opinions that I hope will inform your policy making.

Thanks for your time and support. Feel free to reach me at the number above at any time.

Gary Dietz

 

 

 

18. February 2015 · Comments Off on Doctoral Student Seeks Dads Opinions · Categories: advocacy, parent education, published elsewhere, sites to visit

This is a guest post from Claudia Sellmaier, Adjunct Faculty and Graduate Research Assistant, Portland State University,csellmaier@pdx.edu

 

Survey aDucksbout working fathers who raise a child with special health care needs

48,000 households in the United States include a child or children with special health care needs. Caring for a child with physical, developmental, emotional or behavioral difficulties is expensive and in 2009/2010 22% of families reported financial difficulties because of these care responsibilities. 15% were even forced to give up employment. In addition to these financial difficulties, caregivers often experience physical and emotional problems. Unfortunately, parents don’t receive the support in the workplace and/or in their communities to better integrate the demands of employment and the needs related to family care. The voices of fathers caring for children with special health care needs have been underrepresented in the past and we need to learn more about dads’ challenges and successes to improve workplace conditions and community services. What is your experience? What resources do you have in your workplace, your family, and your community to maintain employment and take care of your family?

I am a doctoral student at the School of Social Work at Portland State University and I am asking for your support. Please follow this link and fill out the 10-minute online survey. https://portlandstate.qualtrics.com//SE/?SID=SV_eP7Qzeu0bZkpmhT

Please share this information with your friends and your social networks to help me spread the word! Thank you for supporting this project to improve working and living conditions for all our families.

This is a guest post from Claudia Sellmaier, Adjunct Faculty and Graduate Research Assistant, Portland State University,csellmaier@pdx.edu

11. February 2015 · Comments Off on Welcome ‘The Mighty’ Readers · Categories: advocacy, parent education, published elsewhere

themighty-banner

Hello ‘The Mighty‘ readers!  A quick greeting. All the links you need to know about Dads of Disability™: Stories for, by, and about fathers of children who experience disability (and the women who love them!) are right here:

PurchaseFree SamplesOn Facebook ReviewsTwitter

Remember, you can buy the eBook on major ebook stores. The paperback is also available on Amazon or by special order at your local bookstore. If you have any questions at all, please contact me.

From Shavon Brown-Robinson’s blog I Just Want to Be Superwoman

“There are many sites, blogs, support groups for mothers of special needs children. As a mom of one of those children, I can assure you these are definitely needed. Before reading “Dads of Disability” I never realized that Dads have their own unique feelings and experiences about parenting special needs children. Their voice also deserves to be heard. Reading these stories prompted me to have conversations in my own house about how our journeys and experiences can differ greatly while parenting the same child. The desire for a deeper dialogue is the greatest gift a book like this can give.”