Filmmaker Ben Duffy and Ajani “AJ” Murray met while working on a project for Yoocan, an online community for people with disabilities. At the time, the actor living with cerebral palsy struck up a conversation with Duffy about his dating struggles and the lack of information surrounding love and sexuality in the disability community and encouraged Duffy to take on the subject for his next film. When Duffy, having been introduced to the disability community through his 2016 documentary Tin Soldiers, bounced the idea around with some friends, it quickly became evident that the topic was not only of great interest but in serious need of exploration and exposure. Just like that, the making of Take a Look at This Heart became his sole focus.
Throughout the documentary, people living with varying degrees of disability open up to Duffy and his camera sharing stories about their romantic relationships or lack thereof. Where some of the cast are in healthy relationships, others have yet to find that connection we humans innately seek.
For those who haven’t found love, we have to ask the question: is society’s perception of disability to blame?
The film industry has occasionally explored love and sexuality in the disability community in the past with pictures such as The Sessions and The Theory of Everything. But as one cast member of Take a Look at This Heart, Spike Kane, puts it, “The Hollywood approach is very much sugar-coated.” By tackling the subject in the form of a documentary, Duffy gives people who are actually living with a disability an opportunity to share their thoughts and dispel the myths and preconceptions that most definitely exist among the able-bodied population.
“I'm sexual and sensual. I'm walking around one night dancing my booty off. The next night, I get paralyzed and I wake up in the hospital. I'm not going to change inside immediately. I'm still going to want to make love. I'm not going to wake up paralyzed and not want affection.”
A veteran of the entertainment industry, Rockwood believes educating writers and decision-makers in Hollywood and encouraging them to break away from standard casting conventions to put more actors and actresses with disabilities on screen is a step in the right direction. After all, film and television are powerful mechanisms that have proven capable of shifting mainstream views on various social issues in the past. The Mary Tyler Moore Show made it acceptable to be a single woman focused on her career rather than starting a family, and one could argue that Will & Grace set in motion the recent advancement of laws recognizing the marriage rights of the LGBT+ community.
Margarita Elizondo, CEO and Founder of Rolling With Me, who also appears in the documentary, is confident that Take a Look at This Heart has the power to change the way future generations view people with disabilities. Through her involvement with a Disability in Society class at San Diego State University, she has been able to get the documentary into the curriculum this semester with two on-campus screenings that will reach an audience of nearly 1,000 students. She is actively working to get the film on the radar of other colleges as well with the hopes of jump-starting the conversation among young millennials who she feels are passionate about philanthropy and advocating for change in areas that previous generations have failed to adequately address.
Actress, singer, and cast member Ali Stroker summed up the reason this documentary is important and pertinent in an age of increasing rates of disability:
“If you don't know somebody with a disability, you just don't know much about their world.”
And this is precisely what Duffy and the whole cast of Take a Look at This Heart are aiming to change.
Editor’s Note: The official release date of “Take a Look at This Heart” is yet to be determined, but screening opportunities at higher education institutions are currently available. For more information, contact Margarita Elizondo at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Financial contributions toward finishing touches, music rights, and film festival submission fees can be made via the ‘Take a Look at This Heart Indiegogo funding page.
For updates on the official release, follow Ben Duffy on Instagram @benduffypresents.
If you would like to make a donation, you can do so here.
About the Author
Betsy Bailey has a diverse background that includes experience in marketing research, business operations, travel and culinary writing, and playing volleyball professionally overseas.
Betsy has been writing for Wheel:Life since January of 2017 and thoroughly enjoys the process of getting to know her interviewees. She also teaches students learning English as a second language, speaks French fluently, and travels any chance she gets!