“Crip Camp” (it’s not what you think… it’s better)

“Crip Camp” is a documentary directed by James Lebrecht & Nicole Newnham. This 2020 film details the lives of various disabled individuals that attended Camp Jened in the late 1990s. Camp Jened was a summer camp in New York for people with disabilities and many of its campers and counselors went on to become revolutionary disability rights activists. The film highlights how the inclusive, respectful, and imaginatively fun culture at Camp Jened had a profoundly positive impact on the people involved and how it contributed to the later successes of the disability rights movement. I consider this film “wild” not based on the stereotypes of disability, but because of how it subverts the way that I expect to see the disabled community represented in media. I also like that it challenges the idea that “wild” in the imaginative/creative sense is distant from humanity. The campers and counselors at Camp Jened were able to create a uniquely inclusive and fulfilling social structure, not by running away from humanity (like Christopher McCandless) but by considering a wider array of human experiences. 

I’m aware of how the behavior of people with certain disabilities is labeled “wild” due to ableism and mainstream society’s general disdain for the unexpected (or rather un-understood?). I want to be clear that that is not the message that I’m trying to send here. Rather, I would argue that this film is “wild” to me because it challenges mainstream society’s implicit assumption that community spaces that are inclusive to this degree are unrealistic and not valuable. In fact, the clip at 39:55 of the TV show host speaking directly calls out the mainstream media’s pattern of disregarding and devaluing the lived experiences of disabled people. The film also discussed the deplorable conditions of Willowbrook State School in contrast to conditions at Camp Jened. The narrator even once described the behaviors of a deeply traumatized former Willowbrook patient who came to camp as “wild” in a more traditional, animalistic sense. Multiple definitions of “wild” are utilized and applicable when discussing this film.

accessible link to full feature:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFS8SpwioZ4 (Links to an external site.)

– Tsion Teffera

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One Response to “Crip Camp” (it’s not what you think… it’s better)

  1. aga2544

    Oh wow! I have not seen this documentary, but after reading your summary I would like to see it. Your reasoning for choosing this movie is interesting. I like your use of the word “wild” to describe this film. Although “wild” can be used to describe something with a negative connotation, it is refreshing to see it used positively. I think that the term “wild” is up to someone’s interpretation. It can be used to describe something unconventional or differing from the norm, and from how you describe the film, the term “wild” is plenty appropriate. Because the film is challenging societal norms of how disabled people are represented, it represents how the term “wild” can be used to describe something unconventional.

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