I don’t mind adding to the praise parade that has rained down upon Murderball because it’s one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen.  Murderball (which chronicles the lives of members of the U.S. Paralympic Rugby team) enlightens those not disabled by shattering the accumulated patronization of  the disabled in film.  Most importantly, Murderball presents us with a sweaty, sinewy pack of athletes that one can’t help but sexualize, especially when they’re talking about masturbation and their preferred penetration positions.  These guys embody defiantly aggro masculinity in all of its gladiator glory.   The disabled have long been emotionally eviscerated by pity on film, forced into egregiously noble roles where they’re allowed to create epiphanies for people who aren’t disabled.  Wow, our lives don’t suck, thank you for dispensing wisdom in a harmlessly non-erotic way, like a child or a kindly old person.  But the fact remains that if any of us happened to end up a quadriplegic tomorrow, would we want people to cradle us with sorrowful Bambi-eyes or would we want them to straddle our chairs?  Murderball helped me to realize that part of achieving social justice for the disabled involves getting over the tragically narrow categories of “hotness” and giving them lewd stares whenever appropriate.  I plan on starting tomorrow.

But Murderball’s humanization process proceeds at many levels.  Some of the people in the documentary seem like unrepentant dick wads.  As a gay man, I know how nervous I get when gay people get depicted as murderers, trashy whores, or generic bogeymen for free-floating heterosexual fears about the destruction of their always-imperiled families.  But the fact is that some gay people do murder and slut around, but only heterosexual white men have the luxury of individuality.  No matter how many of them rape and kill, they will never have to watch the news and then endure questions about what intrinsic aspects of their “culture” make them such pathological humans.  

Part of the process of having that kind of power comes from not having to be exemplary minorities.  The disabled have been given a heavy cultural burden symbolically, shoehorned into portrayals like the hunchback of Notre Dame who saves a woman’s life repeatedly, only to have her hook up with another man because the standard narrative for the disabled person is to provide wholesome illumination of how precious life is, a not-so-subtle stab in the back which implies that disabled life isn’t equally as precious.  Murderball gets ugly, with some of the men displaying petty, angry, infantile outbursts in the course of the competition, just as it should be.  It sounds contradictory, but I felt liberated from ignorance in that first moment when I realized that I totally loathed one of the central characters, but loathed him as a whole person.  I stopped seeing the chair and saw straight through to the asshole inside.

—Terry Sawyer

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