With just over 2% of the characters depicted in film disabled and recent research indicating that poor representation for those living with a disability could have an impact on mental health, it should be evident that disability is an area of on-screen representation that is in need of immediate attention. I highlighted, in an article last year, the role short film can play in making improvements to diversity and representation in the filmmaking industry and once again it’s in the forefront of my mind after watching today’s selected film We’re Too Good For This, directed by Missy Malek.
The tale of three friends, each with a different disability, looking to get revenge on an abusive step-brother, We’re Too Good For This eschews the usual over-emotional award-bait representation of disabled people for something much more gritty and authentic. Set on a London estate, the 12-minute short follows the trio as they enlist the help of a deaf friend to steal drugs from a ruthless local dealer. When things don’t go to plan, the group find theirselves in a desperate situation.
Like a lot of the short films we feature on S/W, We’re Too Good For This was inspired by real-events, but when Malek first heard the story of disabled drug dealers operating in England’s capital, she knew it was a story she wanted to capture on screen. “I know this word is so overused, but it is empowering, the concept of disabled gangsters”, the director explains in conversation with K.J. Yossman. “Every portrayal of disabled people is always so patronising in the media. And this was the first time a story about disabled people had been put to me that wasn’t patronising.”
Upon initial glance, the story for We’re Too Good For This could easily come across as cliched, but Malek pulls it off by mixing drama with dark humour and bringing it to the screen with some sharp filmmaking and impressive performances. The fact it flips the usual stereotypes associated with disabled people is of course a big draw for viewers, but also for the cast, as actor Asnath Iosala, who plays Fatima, explains (again, in that article by Yossman):
“I was interested in this story because of the drugs storyline but also [being] a Muslim. And also you don’t see stories like this,” she says via a British Sign Language interpreter. “[In the film] I’m involved with a gang, there’s the police, I’m deaf. There’s so many different layers. I just couldn’t even describe anything that I’d seen like this before.”
Representation has to be included in film and television for the right reasons and Malek avoids it feeling like tokenism by ensuring the inclusion of disabled characters in her short isn’t just a gimmick. In fact, it feels like the director’s approach was to totally gloss over the fact that her characters have a disability by placing them in a commonplace setting and storyline and that’s exactly how it should be. With that in mind, I had an internal debate over the focus of this article and whether I should even touch on disability, but the lack of representation both in-front and behind the camera felt like too big a problem to ignore.
Short film looks to be doing a better job of placing disabled actors in complex, layered roles, with We’re Too Good For This joining the likes of Prends-Moi and Hole in doing just that. But is this enough? Obviously not! That list of titles is clearly nowhere near long enough and short film, along with TV and features, is also guilty of placing able actors in roles meant for a disabled person. As the industry continues to look into how it can open more doors for cast and crew with disabilities lets hope short film can start to set the standard for the rest to follow.
With Malek currently developing a series adaptation of We’re Too Good For This, that feels like a good place to start.