ReelAbilities Film Festival – Houston
In his 2016 book “But What If We’re Wrong?,” cultural critic Chuck Klosterman attempted to predict where our age’s great hidden text lies. What future generations tend to remember about bygone eras are works that did not receive proper due in their own time – in part because cultural archaeologists have an esoteric’s activist mentality when canonizing art. His guess was a Native American writing on a message board on the Dark Web, citing the relative paucity of attention given to each.
Far be it from me to make such a sweeping prophecy, but I do think there’s a decent chance that disabilities could factor into that conversation about overlooked, undervalued culture. There are countless courageous Americans fighting daily for the disability community, though their efforts never seem to pierce the public consciousness in the way that movements surrounding civil rights or marriage equality have. To be clear, it’s the people on the ground working for substantive policy gains who make the real change – yet popular culture can also play a large role in changing hearts and minds.
“Margarita with a Straw,” which I saw as part of Houston’s ReelAbilties Film Festival, could help reverse the trend. I so often associate narratives surrounding disability with clichéd struggles and hokey uplift. We’re regularly encouraged to see these individuals as victims, afflicted with some condition they cannot control and acted upon rather than serving as active agents in their own stories. Shonali Bose’s film, which also played such prestigious festivals as Toronto and London, does none of these things. (Although I should add that it does contain some elements of wish fulfillment to the detriment of the overall film.)
The protagonist Laila is a person above all, a young adult with a passion for music and a little bit of wanderlust that directly conflicts with her provincial Indian family’s desires. While pursuing a degree abroad at NYU, Laila’s openness to life and unbridled enthusiasm brings her into the romantic orbit of peers from both genders. The film never downplays her disability and the way it affects her story, but “Margarita with a Straw” is not about that part of her. It’s about her journey of self-discovery in her bisexuality. Not to take away from what Bose accomplishes here, but I spent much of the film thinking about the range of stories still left to tell in this community. I look forward to seeing what lies ahead for ReelAbilties in the years to come.