World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD), 21 March, is a global awareness day which has been officially observed by the United Nations since 2012.

Down syndrome (or Trisomy 21) is a naturally occurring chromosomal arrangement that has always been a part of the human condition, being universally present across racial, gender or socioeconomic lines in approximately 1 in 800 live births, although there is considerable variation worldwide. Down syndrome usually causes varying degrees of intellectual and physical disability and associated medical issues.

Learning Disability and Film

Learning disabled people are chronically underrepresented in the film industry. This is a time to reflect on supporting learning disabled representation in the film industry as well as consider access to cinema for neurodivergent audiences.

Released on World Down Syndrome Day 2021, Amber and Me is a documentary about friendship. Amber has Down’s syndrome and is about to start school together with her twin sister, Olivia. Although at first her experience is positive, she soon starts to struggle and asks to stay at home. Olivia is keen to keep her twin sister in the same class and so begins the struggle of keeping the girls together at school. The film follows the challenges for both girls through 4 years of school and charts the changes in their relationship, uniquely from their own perspectives.

In 2019, FAN New Releases supported Signature’s title The Peanut Butter Falcon, a modern Mark Twain-esque adventure starring Shia LaBeouf (American Honey, Fury) as a small-time outlaw turned unlikely coach who joins forces with Zack Gottsagen‘s Zak, a young man with Down Syndrome on the run from a nursing home with the dream of becoming a professional wrestler. 

You can now rent The Peanut Butter Falcon on BFI Player. (CC available)

My Feral Heart is a drama in which Luke (Steven Brandon), a young man with Down’s syndrome who prizes his independence, is forced into a care home after the death of his mother. There he rails against the restrictions imposed on him, but his frustrations are allayed by his budding friendships with his care-worker Eve (Shana Swash) and a mysterious feral girl (Pixie Le Knot).

BFI Player subscribers can watch the film My Feral Heart on BFI Player, or it can be purchased on DVD or through streaming services. (CC & AD available)

Oska Bright, based in Brighton is the worlds biggest learning disability film festival. Find out more about their amazing work here.

Learning disability and Cinema

During lockdown learning disabled and neurodiversity focused organisations have been keeping in touch by running online activities with their members. For example, Beacon Films have been running self-led Cinema Society screenings, where members present a film screening and discuss it afterwards in an informal environment, as well as creating short films themselves at home. If you are interested in running online activity you may find some helpful resources below.

During coronavirus many learning disabled people may be shielding. If you’re interested in running a relaxed screening when it is safe to do so to help bring in Learning Disabled audiences to your cinema, find out more in our quick tips for running relaxed screenings. You may also find some transferable advice in our autism-friendly screenings guide, though bear in mind much of this advice is specific to people living with autism, not necessarily those who are Learning Disabled. Ideally, consult with Learning Disabled groups in your area for advice and expertise.