How the peanut butter juice is a step forward in presenting disability

Of the 100 most popular films released in 2017. 2.5% of the characters in these films are portrayed as people with disabilities. Of that amount, most are portrayed as a person with a physical or communication disability. The study shows that on television 95% of the characters portrayed with disabilities were played by actors without disabilities. Very rarely do our screens be adorned with a feature film or series starring a character with a disability played by an actor with a disability. A significant exception is 2019 Peanut butter juice. They act in the film Zack Gottsagen, a born leading man with Down syndrome. What does it cost Peanut butter juice such an important step in the right direction to represent disability in film is not only in the cast, but also in the way the story unfolds.

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Gottsagen plays Zack, an ambitious wrestler who escapes from his nursing home funded by the state of Virginia and embarks on a journey to attend his professional hero’s wrestling school in North Carolina. Tyler helps him along the way (Shia LaBeouf), a fisherman fleeing the law, persecuted by Eleanor (Dakota Johnson), his primary caregiver in a nursing home. The scenario that takes place from here is what happens when someone acts self-determined and pursues their goal without fear of failure – a scenario that is also reflected in Gottsagen’s journey during the making of the film.

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In the world of support services for people with disabilities, there is a philosophy of risk dignity. This philosophy is defined as“Dignity of risk is the idea that self-determination and the right to take reasonable risks are essential to dignity and self-esteem and should therefore not be hindered by overly cautious carers, concerned about their duty of care.” The aforementioned duty of care is the responsibility of caregiver support professionals or directors (DSPs) to ensure that the person they support does not harm themselves or others and is free from imminent danger. This legal obligation to protect the health, safety and well-being of others can too often lead people with disabilities into situations where they have too many zealous guardians who do not say everything and everything they want to do to “protect” them from failure. Caregivers and DSPs should want to do everything they can to encourage individuals to succeed, but denying the experience of failure is the opposite of a meaningful life.


Zak starts the movie stuck in this rut. He lives in a residential building that he does not feel belongs to, but as Eleanor honestly explains to him, he is there because the state placed him there. He is a 22-year-old man who lives in a nursing home typically designed for senior citizens and exists in that system that was not designed for him. This is a reality for many people with disabilities. Due to lack of access to resources or ingrained bureaucracy, younger people with disabilities feel stuck in nursing homes receiving care they might receive in an independent home or in a community-integrated environment. Opportunities for self-direction are limited in long-term care facilities and with shadow of institutionalization in recent history, it is extremely important to continue to expand freedom of choice for people with disabilities. Frustrated by his circumstances and longing for this freedom of choice, Zak flees the nursing home and pursues his dream of becoming a professional wrestler.


Because of her relationship with Zak, Eleanor is given an assignment by her superior Glen (Lee Spencer), with finding Zak before he has to report the incident to the state – something Eleanor rightly points out he should definitely do right away. Glen describes Zack as a helpless “boy” with no life experience and condemns Eleanor for letting him escape; despite the seriousness with which he blames Eleanor, this is clearly a problem he does not want to deal with directly. Eleanor finds out about wrestling school and goes to work looking for Zack. As much as she obviously cares more about Zak’s well-being, Eleanor still agrees with the same belief that Zak is completely helpless without the imposed structure of a nursing home, and that sense of panic protection is what drives her quest.


It’s a belief that causes him to clash with Tyler when he finally catches up with Zack. Eleanor insists that Zak must return to the nursing home to receive professional care, while Tyler argues that Zak is better off “living life”. As the two of them quarrel, Zak makes his own decision and throws the keys to Eleanor’s car into the surf. Forced to drive to keep an eye on Zack, Eleanor constantly loves him, but begins to see the ways Zack thrives outside the nursing home. When he meets Glenn on the phone and learns that he intends to move Zack to a more intensive care facility, Eleanor joins the team and helps him get to North Carolina to meet Red Saltwater (Thomas Haden Church). She puts Zack’s self-realization ahead of the rules, regulations, paperwork, and window bars she knows are waiting for Zack in Virginia.


Zaku is not all that clean after leaving the nursing home. He faces unknown challenges and frightening situations. He also makes friends and learns new things about himself. And, spoiler warning, he does not eventually become a professional wrestler – he learns that the school is closed and his hero is retired. But he is gaining critical life experiences that he would not otherwise have, all with the natural support of the people who are with him on his path. It’s a trajectory that reflects Gottsagen’s journey on filming.

Peanut butter juice it would not exist without Zack Gottsagen. Gottsagen trained all his life for an actor and met the film’s directors, Tyler Nilson i Michael Schwartz, in an acting camp for actors with and without disabilities. The duo was impressed by Gottsagen’s talents. Recognizing the small chances that a film with an actor with Down Syndrome in the lead role would be funded in today’s Hollywood, Gottsagen convinced them to write a film only he could set the title. Of course, it was difficult to find sponsors for the film. “Every step along the way was a bit of a tough battle,” Nilsson said in an interview with This morning. “We have been told that this will not be marketable, people will not go to see him in cinemas … because he is not a person who can be sold.” Which, I must say, is simply not true.


The team was offered money to redecorate Gottsagen with an A-list actor, which, ipso facto, functionally means replacing Gottsagen with a capable actor. In a way, these executives saw the film as something they couldn’t figure out how to market. Gottsagen was seen as a risk they were unwilling to take. It is obvious that Nilsson and Schwartz rejected the offers and stayed with Gottsagen, whose personal instinct, talent and ambition started the project to begin with. Much of the film’s content is drawn from Gottsagen’s personal experiences, which is exactly how films with disabilities should be made – guided by the lived experiences of people with disabilities in the positions of actors and teams. Although there was a struggle to make the film, Gottsagen and his friends Nilson and Schwartz remained fearless. They took a risk and it paid off. Directors may have made the wrong attempt to protect Gottsagen from failure, but instead invested in his ambition and took a risk with him. It payed off.

For Zack in the film, the happy ending is a little less obvious. Although Saltwater Redneck is done with wrestling, he is confident he will throw a local battle ticket for Zak as The Peanut Butter Falcon. His opponent should be easy on Zak, but during the match he doesn’t hold back and starts beating Zak. Despite the brutality, Zak takes the opportunity and wins the match, saving Tyler from his past that catches up with him. In the last clip, Zak goes to Florida with Eleanor and Tyler, and while we don’t know what’s going to happen next, we know that Zak will determine the direction of his life, not that decisions are made for him. under the guise of security and protection.

As the world progresses in advancing the rights of people with disabilities, film can prove to be an important tool. Through inclusive cast and informed story development, films with disabilities can help change our culture and evolve the way we think. Peanut butter juice is a crystal clear demonstration that not everything has to be successful to be important, and that the best way to support people with disabilities is to support them in taking the wheel, not to buckle them in the back seat.

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