Now you know how what feels?
Posted on April 17, 2009
This is Sarah’s Story, an awareness raising ad from the Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Association, that was shown in 60 cinemas across the UK in January and February this year:
I can (sort of) understand what the ad is trying to say, but at the same time I find the whole thing problematic on so many levels I think the message the ad was intended to convey gets completely lost:
As part of the campaign we have created a 90-second film which is intended to convey the emotional impact of receiving a diagnosis of MND. It tells the story of a young woman who is suddenly ‘attacked’ by MND.
But that’s not the only story being told here, is it?
Unless the viewer knows beforehand what this ad’s about, they could also read it as some kind of rape/sexual violence awareness raising campaign, attempting to show how rape or sexual assault can have a long-term impact on a victim’s mental as well as physical health.
Or alternatively they could see it as yet another gratuitous use of rape imagery to shock people into sitting up and taking notice of an entirely unrelated issue…..
The Sarah in Sarah’s Story is based on Sarah Ezekiel, who was diagnosed with MND when she was 34 years old and seven months pregnant with her second child. Sarah actually appears in the film herself, or at least her body does, with the actor’s head superimposed for the sake of continuity.
According to the real Sarah, once she received her diagnosis, her then husband became both verbally and physically abusive towards her. But there’s no indication from anyone involved in the film that that abuse forms any part of this story. In fact there’s a film about the making of the ad here, where the director and the actor talk about how they’re trying to “physicalise the disease as an attacker, as if it was a human being attacking”
“There’s a feeling there’s somebody else there, attacking her body”
and ripping all her clothes off so she’s down to her underwear? And dragging her slowly across the floor……
To be honest I had one of those “is it just me?” moments when I watched this; you know, one of those moments when you see something and you know you feel uncomfortable about it for some reason but you wonder if you’re the only one that feels that way. When you start to doubt yourself and to wonder if the problem’s actually with you not with what you’re looking at. When you have to tell yourself “fuck it, if I’m wrong I’m wrong, but I’m going to have to say something ‘cos I really don’t think I am”, so I was pleased/interested/relieved to see that the film’s provoked a heated debate on the BBC’s Ouch! disability message boards, with posters there finding the film as problematic as I do.
At the bottom of the Sarah’s Story website there’s the usual: “Would you like to speak to someone about the issues raised in this film?” followed by contact details for the MNDA. I’d like to suggest they add the contact details for Rape Crisis as well.