23 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, Gota Ishida, Haruki Nakagawa, Kazunari Tosa, Kenjiro Tsuda, Mirai Moriyama, Tasuku Emoto, Yoshifumi Sakai, 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: Andrew Hsu, Doug Plaut, Hussain Dalal, Jacob Berger, Kalki Koechlin, Kuljeet Singh, Malhar Khushu, Marco Torriani, Revathi, Revathy, Sayani Gupta, Shuchi Dwivedi, Tenzing Dalha, Vin Scialla, William Moseley

Director: Nilesh Maniyar, Shonali Bose

Rating: Not Rated

While being known for co-writing the Dogme 95 manifesto, Lars von Trier’s first film after breaks his rules with built sets and music added in post. Still, Breaking the Waves has plenty of von Trier’s thematic preoccupations, challenging the notions between faithfulness and sexuality by positing a married couple who cannot indulge in marital pleasure, due to being paralyzed. While the premise leads to explicit scenes, it’s more harrowing than sexy, really. It’s terribly heartbreaking as Bess does all she can for her marriage, first by praying for her husband’s return, and then following his perverse wish, partly from guilt, but partly from pleasure, even when it goes contrary to her repressive church and community. Breaking the Waves may not be an easy watch, but regardless of what you personally feel about the morality of Bess’ actions, von Trier will nevertheless bring you to empathy.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Adrian Rawlins, David Bateson, Dorte Rømer, Emily Watson, Finlay Welsh, Gavin Mitchell, Jean-Marc Barr, John Wark, Jonathan Hackett, Katrin Cartlidge, Mikkel Gaup, Phil McCall, Robert Robertson, Roef Ragas, Sandra Voe, Stellan Skarsgård, Udo Kier

Director: Lars von Trier

Rating: R

Regardless of where, when, and why war came to be, war inevitably makes children grow up faster than they ought to. Turtles Can Fly depicts one such boy, a thirteen year old refugee nicknamed Kak Satellite whose limited English and resourcefulness transformed him into a leader for the rest of the children as they scrounged for scraps, sweep for landmines, and set up satellites for news. It’s a harrowing experience. Writer-director Bahman Ghobadi depicts it in a grounded, real way, with the Kurdish cast directly re-enacting the same horrors that they’ve gone through the year before, and the same practical nonchalance that they cling to for survival. Regardless of how viewers feel about the Iraq invasion, or other wars with refugee crises, Turtles Can Fly simply asks viewers to see their faces.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Abdol Rahman Karim, Avaz Latif, Emre Tetikel, Hiresh Feysal Rahman, Saddam Hossein Feysal, Soran Ebrahim

Director: Bahman Ghobadi

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, Dan Barreiro, Darryl Strawberry, Don Wardlow, Gary Private, Howard M. Lockie, Ila Borders, Jeff Daniels, Joel Spence, Kalup Allen, Lamar Johnson, Lee Adams, Max Kassidy, Oscar Jordan, Stewart Skelton, Tom Billett, Tony LaRussa

Director: Jeff Malmberg, Morgan Neville

Rating: PG-13

It's uncanny how innocent love can resemble stalking and obsessiveness. We first see Lea’s (Alessandra de Rossi) perspective as she meets funny-man and friendly neighbor Tonyo (Empoy Marquez) out of the blue. Later, we see Tonyo’s perspective and follow his pathetic journey through the heartbreak that led to him shadowing and eventually speaking to Lea. By the time we see both perspectives, it’s too late to judge the surprising events that unfold. The premise seems simple: it follows a relationship that feels comically wrong as it involves a temporarily blind woman and a man who only develops his confidence from not being seen. But it comes alive thanks to the playful chemistry and casting of de Rossi and Marquez, who charm in this brilliantly self-aware Pinoy rom-com.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alessandra de Rossi, Carolle Urbano, Empoy Marquez, Junpei Yamamoto

Director: Sigrid Andrea Bernardo

, 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, Gustavo Cerati, Javier Bardem, Paulina Urrutia, Pedro Lemebel, Raúl Ruiz

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: Doris Chow, Sam Lee, Wenders Li Tung-Chuen

Director: Fruit Chan

Rating: Not Rated

, 2024

Frida Kahlo is an iconic Mexican painter, not just because of her outstanding art, but also because of her outlook in life, despite her ill health and tragic accident. Because of this, she has been talked about in multiple books, movies, and exhibitions, but a new documentary has popped up, this time from her own words. Carla Gutierrez’s directorial debut is a revelation, voiced primarily in Frida’s native Spanish and paired with key archival footage, vivid animations of her paintings, and an excellent acoustic score plucked from classical guitar. Being a biographical documentary, fans of the artist would, of course, be familiar with her life events, but Gutierrez’s approach is still worth watching, mostly because it’s Frida’s own words driving the film.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Fernanda Echevarría del Rivero, Frida Kahlo

Director: Carla Gutierrez

Rating: R

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

Director: Anahí Berneri

The Two of Us could have been a sweet romantic drama all about lifelong devotion regardless of the circumstances, but instead, first time director Filippo Meneghetti makes it feel more like an unsettling thriller that captures the paranoia and near insanity it feels to be closeted– with Nina having to beg Mado to tell her family, having to hide in what has become her own home, and having to bargain and manipulate her way to Madeleine’s side. Two of Us is quite a stunning debut with such a unique depiction of a lesbian relationship.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: Aude-Laurence Clermont Biver, Barbara Sukowa, Denis Jousselin, Eugenie Anselin, Jérôme Varanfrain, Léa Drucker, Martine Chevallier, Muriel Bénazéraf

Director: Filippo Meneghetti

Rating: NR

Even if it doesn't provide the most comprehensive information about treatment and care for multiple sclerosis (MS)—especially for those who can't afford a ridiculously expensive stem cell transplant—this isn't really the point of Introducing, Selma Blair. This is still mostly a biographical documentary about a (self-confessed) "not-so-famous" celebrity, who gets to be incredibly honest about some of the privilege she enjoys, and how that privilege still doesn't make MS any easier. Blair's determination, her sense of humor, and her articulate way of expressing herself keep the film from descending into total sadness, but it also never shies away from the uglier, more difficult parts of her journey.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Selma Blair

Director: Rachel Fleit