This is the case with Scent of a Woman, winner of best dramatic picture at the 50th Golden Globe Awards. Al Pacino, who won best actor at the Awards, portrays a retired army officer who is blind. In the span of two-and-a-half hours, this film manages to set the disability awareness movement backwards by several giant steps.
The average viewer probably leaves this movie with a feel-good “warm, fuzzy” feeling (everyone typically claps at the end) but she probably also leaves with many renewed — and possibly new — stereotypes. She now believes that a man who is totally blind can drive a car at over 100 kilometres an hour without veering off the street; can interpret a woman’s appearance (right down to the colour of her eyes) by the sound of her voice; and can detect, with complete accuracy, the facial and hand gestures made by other people. Pacino’s character refers to himself as having “sharper radar than the Nautilus.” (The myth that someone who is visually impaired makes up for it with supernatural sensory abilities is nothing new, but rarely has it been taken to such an extreme.) This same blind superman, however (who, incidentally never blinks), was shown in other scenes groping, staggering and otherwise stumbling around his environment. He rarely uses his white cane and his sighted guide tends to walk pointlessly behind him.
The life of a person who is blind is shown to be pathetically useless, empty of any intimate relations, and painful enough to necessitate constantly drowning oneself in drink. “What life?” screams the Lieutenant Colonel. “I got no life! I’m in the dark here!”
Blindness is suggested to be a terrible punishment (“God’s a funny guy,” observes the main character’s nephew. “Maybe he thinks some people don’t deserve to see”) that inevitably leads to suicide (“I can’t chew the leather anymore, so why should I share in the tribe’s provisions?” says Pacino’s character).
Such a film demonstrates dishearteningly that there are still a lot of stereotypes that need to be overcome. I look forward to a time when Hollywood can produce movies that include people with disabilities but manages to avoid arranging a tragic, unrealistic story line around them. For now, the myths perpetuated by films like Scent of a Woman continue to stink.
(Lisa Bendall is an ABILITIES staff writer.)