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Filmmaker Reid Davenport on disability representation in film

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How do we portray disability in film? Throughout his career, filmmaker and alum Reid Davenport MFA ’16 has been wrestling with this question in his own work. 

Davenport’s style is raw; by combining home-movie style filmmaking with poignant messages, his films come across as intimate, informative and moving. For example, in Davenport’s short film, “A Cerebral Game,” he walks through his own relationship with baseball as someone with a disability, incorporating childhood photos and clips to create powerful storytelling that puts viewers right in the experience. 

At a screening and Q&A event organized by the Stanford Medicine Abilities Coalition (SMAC) and the Stanford Department of Art and Art History Film and Media Studies Program, Davenport explained how he was inspired to use this emotional filmmaking style. 

“A lot of the time I think I view or I have reviewed my disability as something to overcome, that I need to hire a camera person to get these beautiful shots. And now I’m shooting everything myself — literally using my own physicality and mistakes,” Davenport said. 

He went on to explain how this relates to what he sees as a larger goal of film: “As filmmakers, I think we want to create an experience for the viewers and give it to them as it is.”

Davenport’s films often focus on his own life experiences. The documentary “Wheelchair Diaries,” follows Davenport as he journeys around Europe after having been discouraged from studying abroad. He interviews other individuals with disabilities all while facing his own accessibility challenges during his travels. During the Q&A session, Davenport spoke about some of his life experiences, including accessibility issues during his time at Stanford.

Although Davenport spoke highly of the Stanford Office of Accessibility, he described some of the challenges to accessibility at Stanford. He recounted one time when he had a class on the second floor of a building where there was no elevator.

“To me, that was mind boggling, this prestigious institution with inaccessible venues,” Davenport said. 

Davenport described how he has seen issues with documentary films about those with disabilities in the past. 

“There’s always been a gravitational pull of documentary filmmakers and disability and it’s shown through an ableist lense … it is voyeuristic,” he said. He pointed to a potential cause for this issue: “Most people do not have the knowledge to tell that nuanced story.”

However, he has hope. Davenport has worked to better portray stories of those with disabilities through his filmmaking and believes that representation of these stories is improving.

“The industry is recognizing more voices,” Davenport said. 

Contact Kirsten Mettler at kmettler ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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Kirsten Mettler '23 writes satire and opinions for the Daily. She is interested in political science, law and justice, and occasionally dabbles in theater.