I'm gonna lay it all out right at the beginning.
I HATED FINDING DORY.
I wanted to love it.
The hype was huge. The disability community was abuzz.
"This movie is going to change the way people think about disabilities."
"Dory's disability is ultimately shown to be her strength."
"Almost every character is this movie is disabled and they are all accepted."
I bought into the hype and I was ready. I was ready to change the conversation. I was ready for greater love and acceptance for people with disabilities. I was ready to love this movie. I was ready to laugh. I was ready to cry. I was ready to be inspired.
I cried alright.
Because I was so disappointed.
The message I heard loud and clear is you can accept a person with a disability as long as they are "too" different. As long as they aren't ugly. As long as they aren't dumb.
Nemo is cute, and you hardly notice his tiny fin. He requires not special modifications to his environment or special treatment to get through life. Intellectual ability intact.
Same for Hank and his missing tentacle. Lovably grumpy. Physical mobility intact. Smart as can be.
Dory, Bailey, Destiny?
They had invisible illnesses. Physically they looked like everyone else. None of them are intellectually disabled. All were deemed worthy of kindness and acceptance.
He was ugly. He was implied to be intellectually disabled. He was obviously different in a big way.
And Gerald wasn't allowed to sit on the rock in the sun with the other two sea lions.
He was violently thrown off the rock by the other sea lions.
Cue hilarious laughter from the audience.
But wait... I'd heard that Gerald was one of the characters who helped save the day.
They needed what Gerald had, his bucket, to save the day. So they tricked him. They told him they would be his friend, that he could sit with them if he gave them his bucket. He happily gave them his bucket and once they had what the wanted they violently chased him away. His movie saving moment was being gullible and abused. He was deemed too dumb to simply ask if he would share his bucket. He was intellectually inferior so how could he understand a concept like sharing. It was funnier if they tricked him and exploited his friendly nature and desire to be liked.
Cue more hilarious laughter from the audience.
My daughter has Down syndrome. She has many of the obvious physical characteristics of Down syndrome. When people look at her they know she is different immediately. It is not an invisible disability. People will make assumptions about her intellectual ability based solely on her physical appearance.
And Finding Dory just told their audience that you should accept someone as long as their disability isn't too disabling. They just told a generation of children that if someone, like for instance my obviously disabled daughter, is too different looking, too ugly or perceived to be intellectually inferior you don't have to be kind or understanding of their differences. They just taught children everywhere that it is fine, every super funny, to bully them. You can abuse them for laughs. It is alright to play tricks on them. It is just fine to take what they have for yourself if you really want it. And it is perfectly alright to refuse to sit with them simply because they're different.
Well done Disney.
Well freaking done.