Over at Sundance, I’ve been covering “Push Girls,” their new reality series featuring four wheelchair users living in Los Angeles. The thing is, though, I can’t confine my discussions about the show to Sunfiltered, because it’s awesome, and I think many of you would like it, and that’s the honest truth; really. I’m not being paid to say it.
Commenters on disability coverage here often say that they want to know about the day to day of what it’s like to live with a disability, and how we deal with various things that come up. “Push Girls” satisfies a lot of that curiousity in a way that manages to be frank without being voyeuristic. Ever wondered how a wheelchair user fills up her car? How you put on makeup when you have upper body weakness? How you transfer successfully from a wheelchair to another chair or your bed?
You can find out the answers to these logistics questions, and a lot more, on “Push Girls.” One thing I love about the show is that it’s normalising disability to take away a lot of the fear of the unknown that surrounds it. This also breaks down stigma; when I say we’re just like you, I’m really not kidding in a lot of ways. We might not do things in precisely the way you would, but we still get them done, and we still need to get them done.
You can see Auti training for a dance competition and struggling when the choreography isn’t going quite how she wants it to and she feels like her body is fighting her. Angela’s calling around on modeling jobs and dealing with the difficulty of reentering the industry at an older age and, yes, while using a wheelchair. Tiphany’s having some relationship problems even as she’s falling in love with an amazing woman. Mia wants kids but her boyfriend doesn’t. These are problems many of us can relate to, disability or no.
Disability is woven throughout “Push Girls” but it’s really not a disability-as-tragedy narrative at all; it’s about amazing women living their lives and the friendship between them. And, yeah, it’s about how they adjusted to their disabilities and how they live their lives as disabled women.
I’m not a huge reality television fan at all so I was initially pretty hesitant about the show, seeing a lot of room for grossness and exploitation, but that’s really not the case here. For one thing, the women are actually friends first and television personalities second, with a strong connection that really shows on screen, and for another, the subject matter is handled fairly well.
Yeah, there’s a little melodramatic sad music and somber voices in episode one as you learn about Angela, Auti and Tiphany’s car accidents, but, guess what, getting in a car accident and snapping your spine really sucks and it’s OK to talk about that.
If you want a frank depiction of what it’s like to live with disability, “Push Girls” is definitely a strong representation. In part, it’s because the women aren’t consumed by their disabilities and their disabilities aren’t their sole defining characteristics. They have distinct personalities that are readily evident from minute one and they clearly have different relationships with their bodies and the people around them. Unlike The Bitter Cripple over here, they’re also not constantly ranting about disability rights.
They aren’t afraid to talk about situations where their disabilities come into play; as for example when Mia is informed that she can “just walk in” to auditions, but they also have a sense of humor -- she snorts when the woman on the phone says that. And sometimes that surprises nondisabled people, the fact that we crack jokes about our disabilities, that we find slip-ups funny, that sometimes disability can be simultaneously frustrating and amusing.
“Push Girls” offers a more fun, lighthearted take than what you usually see when it comes to depicting disabled people in pop culture, while still showing audiences a slice of life with disability. It doesn’t mean you’re getting a full representation of what it’s like to be disabled; there are a lot of disabilities out there and they manifest in a lot of different ways, and not every disabled person is a gorgeous middle class woman living in Los Angeles. But it is a show that breaks down barriers, both in terms of conventional depictions of disability and audience attitudes.
It might pave the way to move diverse depictions over time, and that is a really good thing. Hell, just having a show that admits disability can be funny, and sometimes fun, is a huge thing.
The show is also about pushing limits. It’s easy to write it off as yet another entry in the oh-so-inspirational parade but it’s a little more complex than that; this isn’t about “overcoming disability” but about taking the world by the horns no matter what it throws at you, with support from friends and family. Sometimes the world throws you infertility when you really want to have children, sometimes it throws you a breakup that leaves you stuck with a big mortgage to pay and limited resources, and sometimes it throws you a disability.
Still need an excuse to watch? Here's a teaser preview: