'Blindness' to be protested by blind activists
Film reinforces stereotypes, federation for the blind saysBALTIMORE -- Blind people quarantined in a mental asylum, attacking each other, soiling themselves, trading sex for food. For Marc Maurer, who's blind, such a scenario -- as shown in the movie "Blindness" -- is not a clever allegory for a breakdown in society.
Instead, it's an offensive and chilling depiction that Maurer fears could undermine efforts to integrate blind people into the mainstream.
"The movie portrays blind people as monsters, and I believe it to be a lie," said Maurer, president of the Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind. "Blindness doesn't turn decent people into monsters."
The organization plans to protest the movie, released by Miramax Films, at 75 theaters in the U.S. when it's released Friday. Blind people and their allies will hand out fliers and carry signs. Among the slogans: "I'm not an actor. But I play a blind person in real life."
The movie reinforces inaccurate stereotypes, including that the blind cannot care for themselves and are perpetually disoriented, according to the NFB.
"We face a 70% unemployment rate and other social problems because people don't think we can do anything, and this movie is not going to help -- at all," said Christopher Danielsen, a spokesman for the organization.
"Blindness" director Fernando Meirelles, an Academy Award nominee for "City of God," was shooting on location Thursday and unavailable for comment, according to Miramax. The studio released a statement that read, in part, "We are saddened to learn that the National Federation of the Blind plans to protest the film 'Blindness.'"
The NFB began planning the protests after seven staffers, including Danielsen, attended a screening of the movie in Baltimore last week. The group included three sighted employees.
"Everybody was offended," Danielsen said.
Based on the 1995 novel by Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago, "Blindness" imagines a mysterious epidemic that causes people to see nothing but fuzzy white light -- resulting in a collapse of the social order in an unnamed city. Julianne Moore stars as the wife of an eye doctor (Mark Ruffalo) who loses his sight; she feigns blindness to stay with her husband and eventually leads a revolt of the quarantined patients.
The book was praised for its use of blindness as a metaphor for the lack of clear communication and respect for human dignity in modern society.
Miramax said in its statement that Meirelles had "worked diligently to preserve the intent and resonance of the acclaimed book," which it described as "a courageous parable about the triumph of the human spirit when civilization breaks down."
Maurer will have none of it.
"I think that failing to understand each other is a significant problem," he said. "I think that portraying it as associated with blindness is just incorrect."
The protest will include pickets at theaters in at least 21 states, some with dozens of participants, timed to coincide with evening showtimes. Maurer said it would be the largest protest in the 68-year history of the NFB, which has 50,000 members and works to improve blind people's lives through advocacy, education and other ways.
The film was the opening-night entry at the Festival de Cannes, where many critics were unimpressed.
After Cannes, Meirelles retooled the film, removing a voice-over that some critics felt spelled out its themes too explicitly.
Meirelles said at Cannes that the film draws parallels to such disasters as Hurricane Katrina, the global food shortage and the cyclone in Myanmar.
"There are different kinds of blindness. There's 2 billion people that are starving in the world," Meirelles said. "This is happening. It doesn't need a catastrophe. It's happening, and because there isn't an event like Katrina, we don't see."