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Editor’s Note: Movies That Matter
By Lee DeOrio
Social Work Today
Vol. 21 No. 2 P. 4

For cinephiles and casual moviegoers alike, 2020 will not go down in celluloid history. The pandemic paralyzed Hollywood more than any screenwriters strike or lascivious scandal ever could. Nevertheless, directors and producers were able to manufacture several gems, most notably in the documentary genre, and share them with audiences via various streaming services.

Among the five films nominated in the Best Documentary category for this year’s Oscars, I would consider two to be of particular interest to social work professionals.

“Success is the best revenge” is the de facto motto of Fox Rich, a successful businesswoman and mother of six boys whose husband was sent to prison for 60 years for committing armed robbery. Her fight to free her husband serves as the foundation of Time, an Amazon original directed by Garrett Bradley.

Exhibiting patience and fortitude, Rich enlists a steady stream of lawyers to no avail. As a result, she assumes the fight herself. For social workers, the film presents an interesting view of the justice system. Rich’s dealings with the court and the family’s trips to prison to visit their patriarch serve as an indictment of a system often devoid of humanity.

At a relatively scant 82 minutes, it can be argued that the film fails to address several issues that social workers in particular would want to know. Still, the collage of home movies packs an emotional punch that’s hard to ignore, and Rich herself commands the audience’s attention. Her resolve and mission amid the trappings of the system can’t be denied. “Listen, my story is the story of over 2 million people in the United States of America that are falling prey to the incarceration of poor people and people of color,” she says.

A group of people who did manage to change the system forms the basis of the wonderful Crip Camp, the heartfelt story of how a group of teenagers with disabilities at a—shall we say “progressive”?—upstate New York summer camp formed a selfless bond that changed their lives forever. Actual footage of the camp and stories from the campers shine a light on just how liberating an experience it was for all those involved. Here, even love—once considered a pipe dream for these kids—could become a reality.

Several of the campers migrate west to Berkeley, California, where their newfound independence leads them to explore political activism. Now, there’s no stopping them. Led by Judy Heumann, a former camp counselor, the “crips” stage a sit-in at a San Francisco municipal building demanding equal rights for those with disabilities. From there, it’s on to Washington to create legislation that would forever change the lives of the disabled.

Mixing self-deprecating humor with inspirational stories, Crip Camp expertly makes the point that everyone matters.