12 Best Disability Stories to Watch

Staff & contributors

, 2022

Inu-oh is a visually stunning and thought-provoking anime that reimagines a Japanese folk tale as it explores themes of artistic freedom, individuality, and the consequences of challenging societal norms. The movie's striking imagery, original music, and captivating story make it a memorable viewing experience, delving into issues of identity and the prejudices faced by disabled individuals with sensitivity. While the catchy music may not appeal to everyone, the film's unique blend of ancient and contemporary storytelling creates a creative triumph that anime fans will appreciate, offering social commentary and a reflection on the power of staying true to oneself.

Genre: Animation, Drama, Music

Actor: Avu-chan, Chikara Honda, Kenjiro Tsuda, Mirai Moriyama, Tasuku Emoto, Yutaka Matsushige

Director: Masaaki Yuasa

Small, Slow But Steady is a quiet, contemplative film about a deaf boxer named Keiko. Keiko is determined to become a professional boxer, but she faces many challenges; the pandemic, the closure of her boxing club, and the illness of her aging coach. The film's director, Sho Miyake, excellently captures the slow, deliberate pace of Keiko's training; and the quiet moments of her life outside the ring. 

With serene wide shots of the Japanese countryside and small intimate moments in the boxing ring, the film lives up to its name, giving a tender portrayal of the need for connection and community in (and outside) of the pandemic. The steady performances from Yukino Kishii as Keiko and Masahiro Higashide as her coach make this slow-burning film a rewarding and inspiring story about perseverance and the power of dreams.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Himi Sato, Hiroko Nakajima, Makiko Watanabe, Masaki Miura, Nobuko Sendo, Tomokazu Miura, Tomomitsu Adachi, Yukino Kishii, Yuko Nakamura, Yutaka Shimizu

Director: Sho Miyake

Margarita with a Straw is a bold and unflinching film that offers a sensitive and nuanced portrayal of disability, sexuality, and identity. The film follows the journey of a young woman with cerebral palsy as she navigates her way through life, love, and self-discovery. The film's honest portrayal of exploring sexuality, its rich and diverse cast of characters, and its raw and emotional story make it a deeply affecting watch. It's a triumph of representation and inclusivity, and a testament to the power of storytelling to challenge and change the way we see the world.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Doug Plaut, Hussain Dalal, Jacob Berger, Kalki Koechlin, Kuljeet Singh, Malhar Khushu, Revathi, Revathy, Sayani Gupta, Tenzing Dalha, Vin Scialla, William Moseley

Director: Nilesh Maniyar, Shonali Bose

Rating: Not Rated

You don’t need to know a lot about baseball to appreciate The Saint of Second Chances. It has enough going on to keep you hooked from start to end, beginning with Jeff Daniels’ inimitable voice as the narrator and Charlie Day’s inspired casting as the younger Veeck, all the way down to the Veecks’ fascinating ties with American sports history and Mike’s inspiring and heartwarming second-chance philosophy. It all gets a bit too much at times, as if the filmmakers themselves were overwhelmed with their abundant material and creative decisions, but it’s executed with so much care and love that it seems as if this is the only way it could’ve come out: a wonderful mess. 

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Agnes Albright, Bill Veeck, Charley Rossman, Charlie Day, Gary Private, Howard M. Lockie, Jeff Daniels, Joel Spence, Kalup Allen, Lamar Johnson, Oscar Jordan, Stewart Skelton, Tom Billett, Tony LaRussa

Director: Jeff Malmberg, Morgan Neville

Rating: PG-13

, 1993

Part documentary yet part surreal daydream, director Derek Jarman’s final film is one last rallying cry into a blue void. Against an unchanging screen of International Klein Blue, most of the film is Jarman’s voice, drifting through various subjects, from day-to-day complications of AIDS to contemplations about the color blue. Some of his frequent collaborators chime in. Choirs singing about damnation occasionally pop up too. While essentially a radio drama, the combination of voices, foley, and scores all merge together into an ethereal, haunting soundscape, that sticks in your head long after the film ends. Mirroring his partial blindness, Jarman’s last experiment leaves an impression of his own experience. It’s absolutely devastating.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Derek Jarman, John Quentin, Nigel Terry, Tilda Swinton

Director: Derek Jarman

Rating: Not Rated

Documentaries about people suffering from dementia, Alzheimer's, or other neurodegenerative diseases will always occupy a bit of an uneasy space—how much consent can they really provide in their condition? At what point does presenting their struggles become exploitative? Maite Alberdi's The Eternal Memory doesn't entirely assuage these concerns, but it certainly knows better than to define its characters by the things that they lack. In fact, much of this film's romance comes from the image of Pauli and Augusto (who sadly passed away earlier this year) simply sharing space together, present in one another's routines even as the gap between their shared understanding grows. Their life is one populated by art and literature, which seems to act as both a cage and a liberating escape throughout their relationship.

In the times when Augusto's struggle with basic cognition is too severe, Alberdi doesn't look away, and the resulting footage is truly painful to watch. But it should be emphasized that Alberdi displays the same attentiveness to the couple's ordinary moments of quiet contemplation or married-life silliness without allowing them to be reduced into tragedy in retrospect. The film never tries to define their bond as either purely doomed or hopeful. For them, the mere possibility of love continuing to persist even in brief flashes is enough.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Augusto Góngora, Paulina Urrutia

Director: Maite Alberdi

The Way He Looks revolves around Leonardo, a blind teenager, as he navigates the complexities of high school life and explores his budding feelings for Gabriel, a new classmate. The chemistry between the characters feels genuine, and the slow-burning romance between Leonardo and Gabriel unfolds with a sense of tenderness and vulnerability. Director Daniel Ribeiro crafted a comfortable watching experience and a true slice-of-life story that doesn't divulge more than this sliver of time in these teens' lives. Director Daniel Ribeiro's debut is a hopeful take on a queer, disabled romance that feels natural, sensitive, and refreshing.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Bárbara Pereira, Daniel Ribeiro, Eucir de Souza, Fábio Audi, Ghilherme Lobo, Guga Auricchio, Isabela Guasco, Júlio Machado, Lúcia Romano, Matheus Abreu, Naruna Costa, Pedro Carvalho, Selma Egrei, Tess Amorim, Tess Coelho, Victor Filgueiras

Director: Daniel Ribeiro

Rating: Not Rated

Aggressive, grungy, and rebellious, writer-director Fruit Chan’s debut film captures teen nihilism amidst abandonment in uncertain times. Immediately, the first look of this film is reminiscent of Wong Kar Wai with its use of character narration, hazy green scenes, and over-exposed film. However, Chan pairs these aesthetic techniques with the storyline of a revenge film mixed with an us-against-the-world mentality. While the protagonists Autumn Moon (Sam Lee), Ping (Neiky Yim Hui-Chi), and Sylvester (Wenders Li) start the film with teenage concerns like dealing with wet dreams, dating, and bullying, it’s clear that they go through them aimlessly, without the guidance of their fathers, almost as if with no hope at all due to their specific circumstances. In Chan’s hands, how every kid reacts to each change feels like an outburst against the adults in their life, and of the life outside of the film. It’s as if the words “fuck you” were made into a movie.

Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama, Romance

Actor: Sam Lee

Director: Fruit Chan

Rating: Not Rated

After working on Prime's TV series Verdict, Argentinian director Anahí Berneri has now made her Netflix debut with Elena Knows, a mother-daughter drama based on the book of the same name by famous novelist Claudia Piñeiro (International Booker Prize Shortlist). Berneri has not lost her arthouse touch, on the contrary, Elena Knows looks lush and minimal at the same time. With the use of shallow focus, the cinematography presents the world as an inhospitable place to the protagonist, Elena (Mercedes Morán, recently in Netflix's The Kingdom), whose advanced Parkinson's robs her of her agency, day after day. Very early on in the film, she loses her daughter and carer, Rita (Erica Rivas you might know from Wild Tales), and her absence leaves a gaping hole in the life of the grubby elderly woman. Berneri's newest film owns up to its investigative thriller elements as Elena insists her daughter has been murdered, but at its heart, it holds a paradox: that of maternal love and parental hatred. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Erica Rivas, Marcos Montes, Mercedes Moran, Mercedes Scápola, Miranda de la Serna, Mónica Gonzaga, Susana Pampín

Director: Anahí Berneri

Sincere and direct, Ana Rocha de Sousa’s debut feature is a tragic portrayal of an immigrant family in the United Kingdom. Known best abroad for her role in Love Actually, Lúcia Moniz shines as devoted mother Bela, who, along with Jota (Ruben Garcia) struggles to keep their family together. The couple and their three children, including the deaf middle child Lu (Sophia Myles), come under the scrutiny of social services, especially after the unexplained bruises. While at times heavy-handed, the film raises important questions on family separation and social services, especially with their limitations with children with disabilities.

Genre: Drama

Actor: António Capelo, Brian Bovell, Holly Horne, Jay Lycurgo, Jon Rumney, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Lúcia Moniz, Sophia Myles

Director: Ana Rocha de Sousa

Rating: Not Rated

Champions is as formulaic as it gets, but it’s impossible not to smile watching it. It’s based on a 2018 Spanish movie of the same name, but it feels a lot like the 2023 Korean movie Dream too. In both (and indeed a lot of other) films, we follow a sad sack antihero who, by virtue of being exposed to less fortunate people, is magically transformed into a good guy who gets all the glory he wished for by the end of the story. You know where it’s headed and you even know how it gets there, so it’s devoid of genuine twists and thrills. But the ways in which it gets there, however familiar, are sometimes funny and heartwarming. If you can stomach the cheesiness and predictability of it all, then Champions comes as an effectively hopeful and feel-good film that’s worth tuning into if you want a light laugh. Otherwise, it's all familiar fluff you can skip for better fare.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Alexandra Castillo, Alicia Johnston, Ashton Gunning, Barbara Pollard, Cheech Marin, Ernie Hudson, Jacob Blair, Jalen Rose, Jean-Jacques Javier, Kaitlin Olson, Lauren Cochrane, Matt Cook, Mike Smith, Seán Cullen, Stephanie Sy, Woody Harrelson

Director: Bobby Farrelly

Rating: PG-13

A remake of the 2018 South Korean film of the same name, Keys to the Heart never really seems like it comes together as a thematic whole. In its bid to be a modest slice of life—as a story that just happens to feature boxing and classical music amid family conflict—its separate parts wind up feeling underdeveloped. So despite admirable work from its cast and big emotional moments that are treated with a surprising level of sensitivity, there's always a sense that the film is constantly trying to be a soap opera instead of simply being a messier, more organic thing.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Bart Guingona, Dolly de Leon, Elijah Canlas, Katya Santos, Lao Rodriguez, Michelle Dee, Tirso Cruz III, Zanjoe Marudo

Director: Kerwin Go