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Jamie McDaniel gives lecture on portrayals of disabilities in film and media

The Tilford Group and the Department of English & Modern Languages hosted Jamie McDaniel, associate professor at Radford University and former PSU professor, who gave a lecture entitled “Adapting Tiny Tim” on Thursday, Nov. 15, in the Axe Library.  

McDaniel specializes in disability rhetoric across multiple media and spoke about how adaptions of popular novels and films depict how individuals think about people with disabilities. This is the first time McDaniel has given this lecture at a university or school, though he has previously spoken on this topic.  

“I have not given this talk at other schools, though I have presented at national and international conferences on the subject,” McDaniel said. “In fact, I attended the 2018 Association of Adaptation Studies Conference in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, this past September and spoke about how a focus on fidelity, or faithfulness to the original work, affects the ways film professionals adapt characters with disabilities for the screen.” 

Subjects addressed during the lecture included: what is at stake in taking Tiny Tim from “A Christmas Carol” and putting that character in “Mickey’s Christmas Carol” and changing him from a human with a disability to a mouse with a disability; the Netflix original show “Stranger Things” and how that show adapts stereotypes of teens with disabilities; how novel-to-film adaptations criticize the ways that society treats people with disabilities; and the similarities between adaptions showing people with disabilities and adaptations showing other groups commonly discriminated against, such as racial minorities, LGBTQ+, and women.  

Nathaly Hernandez, freshman in chemistry, attended the lecture and found it both “interesting, and enlightening.”  

“I believe this lecture was very interesting,” Hernandez said. “I realized I never actually thought about how (people with disabilities) were seen in films. It would totally go over my head. Everything in the lecture was new to me. I didn’t know there were actual terms to what they were doing, and I also found it really cool that they inserted short clips as examples.”  

McDaniel discussed how he has seen firsthand how some people with disabilities are treated.  

“I became interested in disability studies when my dad developed Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare neurological disorder in which the body’s immune system begins to attack its nervous system,” McDaniel said. “… Seeing how my dad’s first set of doctors treated him by dismissing his descriptions of his symptoms to the point where we changed hospitals and found doctors who would listen carefully … made me want to learn more about how many in the medical establishment treat people with disabilities, such as his chronic illness. Of course, I’m not a medical doctor, but I can discuss representation of disability in cultural texts, such as novels, films, and comics, and how those representations affect common ways that society thinks about and treats people with disabilities. In my research, I discovered a lack of scholarship on adaptations and disability, so that’s been my focus lately, though I have also published work on disability in horror films.” 

Felicity Mitchell, freshman in accounting, also attended the lecture and found it educational. 

“I thought the lecture was extremely informative and fascinating,” Mitchell said. “I normally do not pay that much attention to movies and the ratio of disabled people or the stories, and now when I watch a movie with someone that has a disability I really try and analyze the situation and the story of the film. It’s given me a whole new outlook on films in a good and bad way. I have mixed feelings about the situation, but I now feel more educated on the subject to create a more educated opinion. I would definitely go to another lecture.” 

The purpose of this lecture was to show those in attendance that adaptions can affect the way people with disabilities are viewed. 

“I hope people understand that accurate, diverse, and intersectional representation matters,” McDaniel said. “It is easy to dismiss films and television shows as purely for entertainment purposes. However, these works affect the ways we see our neighbors, our friends, and even strangers on the street.”

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