Shifts in attitude towards disability observed through seven German films
Disability is a label accompanied by a multitude of misconceptions and stereotypes. During various periods in Germany, attitudes towards disability have ranged from disgust and fear, to acceptance and inclusion. Being disabled in Germany once meant certain isolation; at the hands of the Nazi regime, it was met with almost certain premature death. Since those darker days of Germany's history, the country has become one that now affords its disabled citizens with the same rights as the non-disabled population and seeks to create a barrier-free environment. This study examines these perceptions of disability in Germany from the 1920s through the first decade of the 21st century. In order to accomplish this goal, cinema is used to provide insights into contemporaneous ideas about disability. By drawing upon analyses of six films that span the course of nearly 80 years, careful examination of disability portrayals reveal philosophical shifts in how the German people interpret disability. When analyzing these films, aspects of physical and mental disability are brought to the surface and discussed in terms of their sociopolitical and philosophical implications. To provide a social and cultural framework that gives significance to the changes in these cinematic roles, a historical survey of the German disability rights movement is folded into the discussion. The films explored in this study serve as culturally important visual aids that illustrate positive changes for the disabled living in Germany. Although not directly influencing cinematic portrayals of disability, the German disability rights movement that arose in the postwar period shaped ideas about disability and allowed disabled Germans to be accepted and included in society. With these rights now available disabled Germans are able to lead a self-determined life and portray themselves as equals.