Kids can be mean. I remember being wary of recess time, where I stood out a lot with my red walker and my blue helmet, being ignored or made fun of. Adults can also cause harm to folks, though this often happens in less overt ways. I feel invisible when people address the people I am with instead of me.
Hurt is a universal feeling. The short animated film, “Corto Ian”, premiered at Cannes Film Festival last May and premiered on YouTube in November. It has qualified for the Best Animated Short category in the 2019 Academy Awards. Written by Gastón Gorali, the film tells the story of a boy with a disability determined to participate on the playground despite his peers bullying him. Yet, it resonates across differences. Gorali says, “The feeling of being alienated is common to all of us … To find ourselves fighting a force that pushes us away from whatever we want to be and do.”
Opening with a lovely scene of children playing together with joy, Ian enters and joins in. When he has trouble holding a glass or walking to the play equipment, other children give him looks, whisper about him, and laugh at him. Each time, he is blown away, looking into the playground from outside the fence. Each time he returns to try again. He is hurt emotionally and physically, because these attempts are demanding on his body. When others recognize his determination and his desire to play, they respond by pulling him from beyond the fence together … until the fence disappears and he is able to join in play in his wheelchair.
This 9-minute video has much to offer and challenge children and adults. Though the film speaks about the specific difference of disability, I believe it can speak to many differences and prejudices we hold as human beings, prejudices that are not new to God’s world.
As disciples of Jesus we are taught the commandment: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Jesus doesn’t simply say this; he models this love throughout his ministry. He engages in relationship with those whom the world, and sometimes the church, would rather ignore. Upon meeting the woman at the well, he offers her living water, and he sees Zacchaeus and sees an opportunity to share in a meal together. He prays that all people may be one, united in their love for God’s world and one another. Through his relationships and preaching, Jesus proclaims the good news of freedom to oppressed peoples.
Watching Corto Ian, I was struck by several thoughts:
- In an effort to “fit in”, Ian appeared on the playground without the equipment he relies on in most of his life. Sometimes, we can think that if we just look like others, they will accept us. Stigmas loom large against assistive devices or certain clothing or body types. Often, the ones who try to prove their “normalcy” end up being harmed, emotionally and physically. Jesus told his disciples to wipe the dust off themselves and move on when others do not welcome them.
- When Ian faces exclusion or ridicule, he breaks into pieces – his emotional hurt is also felt physically. We carry so much in our bodies: stress, pain, joy, and love. Sometimes we don’t always take seriously this pain.
- Families and loved ones of people who are marginalized, like Ian’s mother, are important in putting pieces back together. We often do not see and appreciate the ways families and loved ones support individuals through challenges of pain and exclusion, helping them find courage to try again. It is the disciples, the women, who are with Jesus throughout the trials of death and who meet him after he is raised, on the road to Emmaus.
- It takes one person to begin change, to redefine community. Jesus redefined what communities are called to look like, working to change the idea of who was in and who was out! He called people to be in solidarity with one another.
Ian’s mother, Sheila Graschinsky, was the driving force behind the film’s creation. With her foundation, Fundación ian, she hopes to deliver the message of inclusion to people around the world. The film does not use words, a deliberate decision to make it accessible across languages and ages. “The film is an opportunity for all society…to break down barriers, walls, and free us from prejudices,” Graschinsky said. The film was crafted to “guide [all people] to acquire concrete tools to be people of solidarity.”
This video is a helpful tool for families, older adults (who may also feel marginalized by age and acquired disability), congregations, study groups and more! Give it a watch and have a conversation with others. Here are some questions you might talk about:
- How did the video make you feel? What struck you the most?
- Name a biblical story / teaching that connects with Ian’s story.
- When have you felt like Ian, being blown away from your hopes?
- What are the ways you gather strength to try again?
- Where do you see God in the story? In the characters?
- Name ways you can be a part of dismantling barriers, both physical and emotional, that exist between people.