Students film blasts portrayal of disabilities



Summary:

Benjamin Snow doesn’t want your pity.

Don’t call him "poor little guy." Please don’t call him "wheelchair-bound." And, please, please, don’t tell him he was touched by an angel.

Snow, 19, of Woodland Park just won a national contest with his short film, "Thumbs Down to Pity." The minute-long movie attacks Hollywood’s tendency to heap pity on disabled characters — think "Rain Man," "Awakenings" and "Million Dollar Baby" — and how that pity party spills over into everyday life.

Snow is one of five winners of the 2006 "Film Your Issue" contest, and he will receive his award today at the United Nations headquarters
in New York at a ceremony stuffed with dignitaries. More than 300 films were submitted, and winners were determined by popular vote (85,000 people voted on MSNBC.com) and a panel of judges including actor George Clooney and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.

In the slickly edited film, Snow says Hollywood movies often "focus on pity to portray characters with disabilities as unproductive people with lousy lives." Then Snow shows himself doing karate moves, paying his bills, and writing for his college newspaper.

"I have a disability, and my life is nothing like the Hollywood stereotype," he says.

Snow, who has cerebral palsy and uses a power wheelchair, was home-schooled, and he credits his mom with bolstering his confidence.

"She told me from an early age, 'You can do anything you want and don’t let anyone turn you away or say you can’t do anything,'" Snow said.

He now attends Pikes Peak Community College, where he writes for the school newspaper and studies journalism and film. He plans on transferring his credits to a four-year school and eventually becoming a film critic.

"He’s been a great student. I wish all my students were like him," said Janet Rohan, journalism instructor at PPCC. "I love it when students do more than what’s expected."

Rohan said Snow is a good writer, a good editor and a good leader who is always working to get better.

"He does his work, and he does it well," Rohan said. "He’s a very humble young man but a very proud young man. His persistence is what I really enjoy."

"When I have students like Ben, I believe that what I’m doing is important."

Snow clearly needs no pity. But what’s so bad about pity, anyway?

"In pitying people, you are showing that one person is better than the other person, and people not like you are not as good as you," Snow said. "If you see someone using a wheelchair, you think, 'oh that poor little pitiful guy.'"

"To me it’s natural, it’s as simple as eye or hair color. Would you pity a person for not having blue eyes?"

Snow said he is thankful for his disability. He has the heart of an advocate, and his agenda is a part of who he is.

Snow began writing down his opinions in the eighth grade, when one of his essays won a national contest and was included in a disability report prepared for President Clinton.

In turn, he was named to the Youth Advisory Committee of President Bush’s Task Force on Employment of People with Disabilities.

He appeared in an educational CD-ROM about assistive technology in schools, was on a poster about improving accessibility in college computer centers, and this past year was one of 30 winners (out of 5,400 entries) in an essay contest sponsored by C-SPAN.

"It has always been important to me to try to help others understand some things about disability — namely that it is a natural part of life," Snow said. "I just tell myself, 'attitude is everything, so you can look at it any way you want.' You can never let the obstacle get in your way."

Now, he’s notched another victory in his campaign of education.

Mark Snow, Benjamin’s father, said the response to his film is remarkable.

Professors from three universities want to use the film in their curriculum. A woman from India wants to show the film to her community leaders. The Office of the Secretary of Labor got permission to use the film in federal employee training. And Benjamin has been invited to speak at events across the country.

"It’s based on his own gumption," Mark Snow said. "He’s seeing what kind of things can happen when you take the initiative."

CONTACT THE WRITER: 636-0226 or bill.reed@gazette.com

MORE DETAILS

Watch "Thumbs Down to Pity" and learn more about Film Your Issue at www.filmyourissue.com. Benjamin Snow will sell copies of his film at cost. E-mail heroman87@msn.com to request a copy. Ben’s "Film Your Issue" prizes:

- Expense-paid trip to New York City to receive award statuette

- Expense-paid trip to Sundance Film Festival in 2007, where his film will be shown at a private reception

- Film broadcast on mtvU, MSN Video and MSNBC.com

- Film showcased at the Maui Film Festival 2006

- Motorola RAZR V3 mobile phone

- Toshiba laptop



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