A Fine Film Called ‘Breathe’

A Romance at the Birth of the Disability Rights Movement

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Still alive, Diana Blacker, played by Claire Foy, was the wife and advocacy partner of charismatic Robin Cavendish (1930-1994), played by Andrew Garfield, shortly before he is paralyzed by polio at age 28.

Rather than a point in time, the birth of a movement can be seen as an evolution in awareness when an idea whose time has come gains critical mass. The disability rights movement came to the fore in the mid-1990s as a global social movement to secure equal opportunities and equal rights for all people with disabilities. It has been gaining steam since the 1970s and is now fully in bloom bucking up against funding restraints. It is multi-pronged, made up of organizations of disability activists around the world working on similar goals and demands for the long haul.

‘Breathe’ will leave you laughing, crying and above all thinking about how a deep love can help you – and an entire community – find and sustain the long fight. The personal experience of being disabled or connection to someone who is, is often the motivating factor whether it is to secure accessibility and safety in architecture, transportation, and the physical environment; equal opportunities in independent living, employment equity, education, and housing; and freedom from discrimination, abuse, neglect, and from other rights violations.

In the Andy Serkis-directed film, Andrew Garfield in one of his best roles, plays Robin Cavendish, the disability rights advocate who was a tea broker in Kenya when he became paralyzed with a rare strain of polio in the 1958.He spent the rest of his life pushing the envelope first demanding to be cared for at home with his family and developing a motorized wheelchair all the while working to transform the lives of others like him.


Disability activists are working to break institutional, physical, and societal barriers that prevent people with disabilities from living their lives like other citizens. This film surprises and fulfills on many levels. ‘Breathe,’ is so rich, the moving depiction of values and mettle tested by life, a romantic as well as father/son/extended family story, at the dawn of the disability rights and identity politics movements which emphasizes the need for vaccinations and herd immunity without preaching any of it.

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