Blindness (the Film)

Blindness (the Film)

On Friday the film Blindness will be released to general audiences. This film, which is an adaptation of the 1995 Jose Saramago novel of the same name. This film portrays a society afflicted by a sudden onset of blindness that instantly turns the residence into helpless animals. The National Federation of the Blind has released the following information in an attempt to clarify the alarming misconceptions this film may ingender in viewers. Please take a moment to read and consider this information before watching this… thing.


Q: What is the premise and plot of the movie Blindness?

A: Blindness is based on a novel of the same name
by the Portuguese writer José Saramago. The
premise of the movie is that unnamed residents of
an unnamed city in an unnamed country suddenly
and mysteriously go blind. Those who experience
the blindness see only a white glare, so the
blindness is sometimes called the “white
sickness.” The blindness is contagious and the
government immediately quarantines the victims in
an abandoned and dilapidated mental asylum, with
orders that anyone attempting to leave is to be killed.

The prisoners are given food and supplies, but
deliveries are inadequate and become increasingly
irregular. The asylum also becomes filthy
because the blind inmates, as portrayed in the
movie, cannot find their way to the bathroom and
simply relieve themselves on the floor or in
their own beds. Some of the inmates die from
infection, disease, or are shot by guards when
they try to escape or simply become lost and wander too close to the fence.

The inmates of ward one, led by an
ophthalmologist’s wife who can still see but
feigns blindness to remain with her husband, fare
slightly better than the rest; the implication is
that this is solely because she assists the
blind, portrayed as being unable to do anything
for themselves. As food supplies dwindle,
another group of blind inmates, whose leader has
acquired a gun and dubbed himself “the King of
Ward Three,” begins to terrorize the others. The
armed clique in ward three hordes all the food,
extorting money and valuables from the other
inmates and eventually demanding sex with the
women from other wards in exchange for allowing
the rest of the inmates to eat. One of the
members of this clique, who was born blind and is
not a victim of the white sickness, knows how to
read and write Braille and is given the task of
taking inventory of the valuables stolen from the other inmates.

When the women from ward one go to ward three to
exchange sex for food, one of the women is beaten
to death as she is raped. The doctor’s wife
later kills the King of Ward Three, but the man
who was born blind takes his place as leader of
the armed gang and threatens to avenge the “King”
by killing the doctor’s wife. Being blind,
however, he is unable to shoot her and she
escapes unharmed. The rest of the inmates
finally decide to do battle with the gang in ward
three; just before the showdown, someone sets a
pile of bedding alight, starting a fire that soon
engulfs the entire asylum. During the ensuing
confusion, the man who was born blind shoots
himself. When the surviving inmates, including
the group led by the doctor’s wife, escape the
burning asylum, they discover that no soldiers
are standing guard and they are free.

Outside the makeshift prison, everyone has gone
blind and the city has descended into total
chaos; no government services or businesses are
functioning and nomadic groups of mostly naked
blind people wander through the streets,
squatting in abandoned houses and shops for
shelter and taking food where they can find
it-including in rubbish heaps. There is no
electricity or running water, so the streets and
buildings of the city are as filthy as the asylum
was. Dogs that people used to keep as pets have
gone wild and roam in packs, feeding on refuse
and human corpses. The home of the doctor and
his wife, however, is intact, and their group
sets up residence there. The movie ends just as
they regain their sight-as suddenly and mysteriously as they lost it.

Q: Have you seen the film?

A: Yes. Members of the National Federation of the
Blind were permitted to screen the film. Many
other members of the National Federation of the
Blind have read the novel, and according to the
filmmakers themselves, the movie is “true to the book.”

Q: How will this film harm blind people?

A: Blind people already suffer from irrational
prejudice based on ignorance and misconceptions
about our capabilities and characteristics. This
prejudice-which is based on ignorance and low
expectations but is no less harmful than
prejudice based on ethnicity, religion, or
sex–is the cause of the overwhelming majority of
problems experienced by blind people, including
an unemployment rate that exceeds 70 percent and
the lack of proper education for blind
children. This movie will further entrench myths
and misconceptions about blindness and blind
people, thereby contributing to the barriers to
equal participation in society that we face.

Q: What is wrong with the way blind people are portrayed in the film?

A: Blindness falsely depicts blind people as
incapable of almost everything. Even accepting
that most of the characters are newly blind and
thus have not learned certain skills needed to
function effectively as a blind person, their
complete and utter incompetence is simply not
credible to anyone who has had even casual
contact with actual blind people. The blind
people in the film are unable to dress or bathe
themselves; they usually go about naked or nearly
naked and relieve themselves on the floor or in
their own beds. The doctor’s wife is shown
helping him dress by holding his pants so that he
can step into them, and he comments at one point
that she even has to clean him after he has defecated.

In reality, even newly blinded individuals do not
experience this level of incapacity; they do not
forget how to dress, wash, or use the
toilet. The blind people in the movie are
portrayed as perpetually disoriented and having
no sense of direction or ability to remember the
route from one place to another. However, blind
people regularly travel independently using white
canes or guide dogs. The blind people who are
not completely helpless in the novel and movie
are depraved monsters, withholding food from the
others in exchange for money, jewelry, and
sex. One of the worst of these criminals is a
man who was born blind and has adapted to his
blindness, yet he sides with the criminal gang of
ward three, participating in brutal rapes and
attempting to kill inmates from the other
wards. Thus, all of the blind people in the film
are portrayed either as helpless invalids or
degenerate criminals. The movie suggests that
blindness completely alters the human
personality, resulting either in total incapacity or villainous evil.

The movie also makes it clear that blindness is
cause for complete and irreversible despair; one
blind man comments, “I’d rather die than stay
like this.” Blind people, in fact, do live happy
lives once they have learned to accept their
blindness and adjust to it. The movie also
suggests that the blind must always defer to the
sighted; when the doctor’s wife leaves him
outside a supermarket so she can attempt to find
food, he says, “I know my place.” The dignity,
worth, and individuality of blind people is
constantly denigrated in this way throughout the movie.

The National Federation of the Blind objects to
this portrayal of the blind because it simply
isn’t accurate. Blind people are a cross-section
of society who happen to share the physical
characteristic of being unable to see. The blind
are employed in almost every profession
imaginable, have homes and families, raise
children, do volunteer work in their communities,
and generally lead normal, productive lives. To
the extent this is not the case, the problem is
not blindness itself, but rather the
misconceptions and stereotypes that society holds
about blindness and blind people. This film will
further those myths and misconceptions and deepen
public prejudice against the blind. Most members
of the public do not know a blind person and may
therefore assume that this portrayal of blindness
is accurate and true. It is not, and the
falsehoods in this film will damage the prospects
for equal opportunity, productivity, dignity, and
happiness for blind people throughout the world.

Q: Isn’t this just a matter of political
correctness, or a difference of opinion with the novelist and filmmakers?

A: No. Everyone is entitled to his or her own
opinion, but not his or her own facts. If an
artist were to create a painting called
“Elephant,” but the picture in fact represented a
giraffe, a camel, or a creature from the artist’s
own imagination, then any art critic-or any
layman-would point out that the picture does not,
in fact, represent an elephant. The person
pointing out the inconsistency would not be
accused of “political correctness” or a
“difference of opinion” with the artist, but
would be recognized as having good common
sense. The portrait of blind people in this
movie is simply wrong; artistic license does not
permit a writer or a filmmaker to make false
assertions about an entire group of people. The
stereotyping of blind people is just as
inappropriate as the stereotyping of
African-Americans, women, Hispanics, or any other
group of individuals who share common characteristics.

Q: Isn’t blindness being used as a metaphor in the novel and film?

A: Yes, and this is one of the movie’s main
problems. Blindness is simply the physical
characteristic of being unable to perceive things
with the eyes, but the author and filmmakers want
it to be a metaphor for everything that is bad
about human nature. At the very least, blindness
in this movie represents lack of insight or
perception; arguably it represents even worse
traits, since many of the blind characters engage
in rape, murder, and other forms of criminal
behavior. Blind people, however, are not
inherently obtuse or incapable of
discernment. Although we cannot see with our
eyes, we are aware of the world around us through
our other senses and through the alternative
techniques we use to learn about our environment,
such as traveling with a white cane, reading and
writing Braille, and using technology.

Blindness is no more an appropriate “metaphor”
than other physical characteristics, like hair
color or ethnicity. Movies in which all of the
villains have dark skin or a foreign accent are
rightly criticized as employing racial
stereotypes. If a movie were to be made in which
people’s hair suddenly turned blonde and all of
the characters with blonde hair were vapid
idiots, then people with blonde hair would
rightly be outraged. In today’s society, it
should likewise be unacceptable for blindness to
be used as a stand-in for depravity, incompetence, and lack of
understanding.

Q: Doesn’t your protest violate the First Amendment rights of the
filmmakers?

A: No. The First Amendment protects the
production and screening of this film, but it
also protects our right to protest its production
and screening and to tell the public that it
portrays blind people in an outrageously false manner.

Q: Have you brought your concerns to the attention of the filmmakers?

A: Yes. We sent letters to officials involved
with the production asking to meet and discuss
our concerns but they refused to respond.