SPOILER ALERT: This post discusses important plot points from the movie Bird Box in detail.
I’m a blind woman who has a few thoughts on Bird Box, and I hope this doesn’t get lost among the sea of memes from the movie, because what I have to say is important.
First, a quick disclaimer: I loved the movie. It was suspenseful, mysterious, and a little creepy, which is right up my alley. Initially, I didn’t want to write about the movie because I wanted to just enjoy it for what it was and not pick it apart. But based on the response to the movie, I think it’s worth writing about.
The focus on disability doesn’t really come until the end of the movie when the protagonist, Malorie, and the two children she cares for reach the safe haven they’ve been seeking throughout the film. It’s revealed that the safe haven is the Janet Tucker School for the Blind and that many sighted and blind people live together there with some safeguards to protect them from the monster that kills you only if you look at it.
I have some positive feelings about that ending. The idea that sighted people must rely on blind people is a complete departure from the typical narrative in any kind of media. The survival of people with disabilities alone is something is rare in movies centered around apocalypse. I found the fact that blind individuals were in fact thriving to be refreshing.
However, some things about the movie are problematic. For example, the man Rick who appears at the end. In the movie he is blind, and he is portrayed by Pruitt Taylor Vince. While the actor does have an eye condition called nystagmus, he is not completely blind and I feel that Netflix could have put in a little more effort to find a blind actor for that role. I also wonder how many of the extras in the background were actually blind. Even so,I felt that for the most part the movie succeeded in a respectful and unique portrayal of blind individuals.
What really compelled me to write about this movie was learning of the reactions of fans and the “Bird Box Challenge” that has been spreading like wildfire all over social media. The challenge encourages sighted individuals to complete everyday tasks while wearing a blindfold. The obvious problem with this is that it can be really dangerous. It’s more than that though.
Acting like blindness is a “game” is extremely disrespectful to people like me who live with blindness every day. It’s not who we are as people – but it is a characteristic we happen to have. I’m all for jokes and memes, but mocking something that is a reality for lots of people, especially if you don’t know the first thing about that experience, is encouraging ignorance and furthering stigmatization against blind people that already exists. Most people who are blind have worked hard to learn the skills necessary to be successful, independent, and safe, and the Bird Box Challenge misrepresents us.
I am a blind woman. However, my blindness is nuanced. I have partial vision. I can read, watch TV, and do a lot of things that sighted people can do. The aspects of my blindness that impact me most are my lack of visual field and depth perception. The area through which I am able to see is extremely limited. This adds many unique challenges to my life. I can’t see things coming on either side of my body because I have no peripheral vision. Because of my depth perception, I often have difficulty determining things like how deep a step is or how far something is from me. Both of these things put me at risk when I travel, so I use a white cane and skills I’ve learned in order to be as safe as I can.
There are lots of people like me, for whom blindness isn’t simply seeing darkness constantly. The Bird Box Challenge contributes to the idea that blindness is absolute. It erases the experiences of people like me. I often get harassed or called a “faker” because I use a white cane but am able to look at my phone without difficulty. Some people are polite and curious, but it still interrupts my day to have people asking for my life story because they can’t understand that all blindness isn’t the same. People think that when they are doing the Bird Box Challenge, they are experiencing what it is to be blind, and ignore the fact that the blindness community is rich and diverse.
The bottom line is that the Bird Box Challenge is harmful. I wanted to simply be a consumer of the film, but I knew I needed to speak up when confronted with the way this social media phenomenon has been perpetuating untrue stereotypes about blind people. Blindness does not mean incompetence, and it is much more complex than popular culture would have you believe. So, here’s a new challenge: let’s #BreakTheBox – take just a few minutes of your time to learn something about blindness or someone who is blind. Then post what you learned.
The only way to fight ignorance is with truth.