Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution Movie Poster Image
Docu about life-changing camp has violence, language.
  • R
  • 2020
  • 106 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

People can overcome enormous obstacles to achieve great things

Positive Role Models & Representations

People with severe disabilities demonstrate their intelligence, grit, determination, perseverance, and humanity as they work together to change laws and better society.

Violence

Demonstrators are arrested for protesting unfair treatment of people with disabilities. Wheelchair sit-ins stop traffic in a big city. Disturbing clips are shown from news reports exposing neglect and abuse in state institutions for kids with disabilities, with images of naked, emaciated kids. Witnesses describe how some were malnourished and smeared with feces.

Sex

A woman with cerebral palsy describes having an affair with her bus driver when she was young because she didn't want to die a virgin. She later got a master's degree in human sexuality. She wears a t-shirt that says, "Beneath this t-shirt lies a sensuous woman." A man with disabilities wearing women's underwear and stockings performs a striptease to his briefs in a club.

Language

"F--k," "s--t," "screw," and "hell."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink alcohol.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution is a documentary making the connection between the freedom and independence kids gained at a summer camp for people with disabilities and the creation decades later of federal laws that ultimately made buildings, schools, public transit, and jobs accessible to people with disabilities. Co-director James LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham combine a trove of 1970s camp footage with current interviews and news coverage of the subsequent extraordinary achievements by campers, all demonstrating an awakening of people with disabilities and celebration of the movement they forged to gain equal rights. The film is uplifting and inspiring, showing what people facing great challenges can achieve. Language includes use of "f--k," "s--t," and "screw." Adults drink alcohol and one speaks frankly about her quest not to die a virgin. A man with disabilities wearing women's underwear and stockings performs a striptease to his briefs in a club. There are disturbing clips of naked, emaciated kids with disabilities. Witnesses describe how some were malnourished and smeared with feces. Among the film's many producers are Barack and Michelle Obama.

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What's the story?

CRIP CAMP: A DISABILITY REVOLUTION pays homage to Camp Jened, an inspirational summer camp in upstate New York where kids with disabilities went to get fresh air, but inhaled a sense of freedom and camaraderie that sustained them and inspired them to change laws that held them back. A progressive philosophy at the camp gave kids who couldn't walk or see or speak the chance to experience autonomy and freedom. When they returned home to a world unfriendly to people with disabilities -- at a time before public school access, wheelchair ramps, and accessible bathrooms -- many felt trapped, shut-ins in a world that made no concessions to their physical needs. To some looking back, camp felt like "utopia." The outside world that viewed those kids so harshly didn't exist for them those summers. Years later many of the campers went on to change the world in amazing ways.

Is it any good?

Crip Camp is a moving tribute to the triumph of the human spirit. We are introduced to a woman for whom the simple act of forming words is a monumental effort. She and others like her demonstrate not only sharp intelligence, but also an engaging sense of defiance. One recalls, "even at that young age we knew we were all being sidelined."

Co-director Jim LeBrecht, who was born with spina bifida and is a sound designer at the Berkeley Rep theater in Berkeley, California, guides us through the building of a movement that led to sidewalk ramps in every city, wheelchair-accessible movie theaters, and the ability for kids with disabilities to go to public schools, all achieved by the grit, determination, and intelligence of people with disabilities. In the setting of that hippie-run camp, surrounded by others with similar issues, campers described feeling less self conscious, and supportive of each other. It's easy to see how that encouragement set up so many in this group of people to band together to fight prejudice in adulthood. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about what lessons we all can learn from the way a sidelined group of people with disabilities advocated for themselves. What are some issues you feel strongly enough about to demand change?

  • What character strengths were displayed by the people who forced the government to pay attention to their needs? How are those same qualities useful in everyday life?

  • How would you like people to interact with you if you had a disability?

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