Give Anna Dzieduszycka the damn Oscar, but condemn this Oscar-nominated film

Tadeusz Łysiak’s The Dress (Sukienka) was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Live Action Short Film category. But from the perspective of the disabled community, this Polish film is far from worthy of an award, and here’s why…

I spoke to accomplished filmmaker and committed disability advocate Ashley Eakin about why this is a damaging story and portrayal. eakin’s latest movie, Forgive us our transgressions, was developed as part of Netflix’s Emerging Filmmaker Initiative. She also attended the Powderkeg Fuse Incubator curated by Paul Feig where they produced their short film Roommate, what was selected for Slamdance and SXSW 2022. Eakin is currently developing a half hour series with 20th Century for FX and the project was inspired by her award winning short film Single. single premiered at SXSW in 2020 and received the Special Jury Recognition Award. The project also received the New York Women in Film Loreen Arbus Disability Awareness Grant. In 2021, Eakin directed two episodes of TV for Apple and one episode of Brie Larson’s new series Grow up for Disney+.

In an industry where authentic disability representation is still hard to find, Eakin was thrilled to see a small person in a leading role. “I grabbed my morning coffee and sat down to watch the film – which was very well shot and shot with incredible expertise. I followed Julia’s journey as a maid in a hotel community in rural Poland,” says Eakin.

Eakin mentioned that she is not a small person, but rather a smaller stature due to living with a bone disease. Eakin continues, “After a trucker expressed interest in taking her on a date, she sets out to find a dress that fits her. Clothing can sometimes be difficult to fit, so I resonated with elements on how to find the right clothes. She has a moment of self-doubt after getting drunk and crying to her friends/workmates that she only wishes she had a normal body.

So far so good, but Eakin mentions that this is where the film starts to take a turn for the worst. “Later her boyfriend/colleague surprises her with a dress and she goes to the casino to meet up with this date. Things seem to be going well and he’s intrigued and by this point it’s clear that she has a craving and lust for romance – something so seldom shown in films starring people with disabilities. Things get a little hot when they start making out in his car,” says Eakin.

Eakin mentions that she saw this movie a month ago, and yet it’s still playing in her head: “Their sex quickly turns to violence as he starts raping her, hitting her, calling her a dumb middle , and when he’s done, he says how disgusted he is with himself for having sex with someone like her. I was disappointed, traumatized. The film ends with her having to clean his room the next day, and when she opens his door, a naked woman with the perfect able-bodied body is lying on the bed. She stares.”

Eakin says the main problem with this film is the director, “A non-disabled man dreamed up this story about the trauma of a disabled woman. I’m careful not to say that only people who have experienced this trauma can write and direct these things. I think we NEED to have disabled people advising and surrounding this project and not just leave it to the actress who herself says in interviews that stories about someone like her are never shown a chance to be seen – their stories and theirs fights.”

The transmission of this trauma is gratuitous and has shock value. “It’s a shame when our stories are never told, that those who show us having sex are raped and choked and shamed for the fact that we exist. This is not the average experience for someone with a disability. YES, violence and assaults are happening in our community at an alarming rate. Still, when there is so little representation on screen, this story can serve as a terrible example for our narrative. I have a disability and live in an inter-disabled relationship.”

Eakin continues, “My sex life is comparable to that of the average able-bodied person. My husband doesn’t fetishize me and it’s quite normal, full of passion, tenderness and love. where are these stories Why don’t we make room for them? Normalize our existence instead of perpetuating the idea that sex with a disabled person is taboo and underhand. I’m working on a pilot project for FX where yes – we’re experiencing trauma that the character is going through, but we’re also exploring all other areas of our protagonist’s life – which is why I think this short film is irresponsible – we have to explore other parts of their life – not only this tragic moment that leads society to feel sorry for our community.”

This film does not help disability advocacy within the industry or beyond. Eakin says: “Even more disheartening is that the academy thought this was something to applaud. Yes – no doubt the filmmaking was incredible, but in a story that was well intentioned by the filmmaker [Tadeusz Łysiak] even quote…

“We all live in a world where the standards of beauty are defined by magazine covers or pictures taken by Instagram models. We’re getting used to a certain cult of strength, and the canons of beauty are definitely too ruthless. How can we find ourselves in this world that points to every “imperfection”? We forget what matters most: our hearts. We forget that we are all made of the same clay and that we all need love. Loneliness is the number one widespread disease of the 21st century. Millions of hearts die every day. And people just walk by idly. The Dress touches on the subject of rejection, loneliness and the desire for love. Our heroine is a channel of very universal emotions that everyone can relate to. Julia is physically different from the rest of society, but she is guided by the same needs and desires as all of us. The world is full of lonely people who were doomed for this loneliness even though they didn’t deserve it. I hope our film will draw audiences’ attention to this issue and allow us to go beyond just looking at ourselves in the context of our looks, face shape, height, weight or other physical aspects. We were all created to love. It is love that rules the world. It is love that knows no boundaries or limitations and is a beacon of hope in these dark, often brutal times.”

… How does this story show a glimmer of hope as it ends by seeing an able-bodied woman naked in a bed. I feel like his mission statement means well, but this short film shows me/disabled people that we are doomed and will never be the perfection of humanity that we see in the media everywhere else. This was clearly intended for the able-bodied, to feel compassion – not to spread light and hope. It completely missed the mark and I’m still dealing with the aftermath of my trauma. This art is actually damaging to our community – which is why we need more people with physical abilities to work with creatives who aren’t the actors. We’ve seen it in so many other roles where directors/writers can take advantage of an actor because they’re in a position of power. They need someone who can say – this is wrong and we need to change the narrative or add nuance,” says Eakin.

Tatiana Lee, model, disability activist and founder of Accessible Hollywood says, “It’s not enough just to cast authentically, and it shouldn’t be up to the actor to comment on the script themselves. That’s why it’s important to have one [disability] Advisors in addition to other disabled crew members involved in the storytelling process. The counselor should understand the culture and nuances of disability advocacy. It’s like a disability advocate [being there] every step of the way”

Eakin was passionate about popularizing that “Anna [Dzieduszycka] is unbelievable. Give her the damn Oscar but condemn this movie. I was hesitant to even participate for fear it would be seen and harmed by others in our community. I don’t want to hurt Anna or make her feel awful either, but we deserve better.”

Eakin concludes by saying, “We deserve stories that show us as people who live in this world that is cherished – it’s possible, and it exists because I live it.” The Oscar nomination showed that the Academy feels these are the stories we need. You are not.”

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