When Billy Broke His Head … and Other Tales of Wonder,” a docu about disability and civil rights that won the Sundance Festival’s Freedom of Expression Award, is unique: an irreverently insightful film about a “serious” subject many people find depressing. In turn funny and shocking — but always realistic and down-to-earth — one-hour docu, whose aim is to change the public’s perception of the disabled, should be seen by as many viewers as possible on TV and in other venues.
It may come as a surprise to many that the disabled number 49 million in the United States. But until recently it has also been one of the least politically vocal groups. This docu could be part of a movement that will help change that, as it provides the first no-apologies look at the disabled.
The search of one person, brain-damaged Billy Golfus, for an intelligent, active and dignified life is at the center of this humorous docu. It highlights the problems disabled individuals face as they encounter a labyrinth of bureaucratic service organizations, insensitive or uncaring professionals, blatant discrimination and negative attitudes toward conditions perceived as “a fate worse than death.”
With an irreverent tone reminiscent of “Roger and Me,””When Billy Broke His Head” follows its protagonist as he confronts a social worker to discuss “spend down,” the procedure by which the government decides how much earned money should be deducted from his benefits. The scene plays like a slapstick routine.
“Like almost everyone,” Billy says in his quirky narration, “I thought disabled people were supposed to act tragic and brave, or cute and inspirational , but these people weren’t sticking to the script.” Indeed, the film’s humor and wit underscore its serious goal of stoutly rejecting societal stigmas that label the disabled as victims or saints. Clips from Hollywood movies and telepix show how narrowly the disabled have been portrayed.
This potentially influential docu makes clear that the greatest barrier the disabled face is not their physical or mental conditions, but stereotypical misconceptions perpetuated by the mainstream media and public opinion.