“Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution” debuted this past January at the Sundance Film Festival, earning a heap of critical raves and the coveted Audience Award. The film then debuted on Netflix in March and could be the latest Netflix doc to contend for Best Documentary Feature at the Oscars. Netflix has done very well in that category with a total of nine nominations in six years, including wins for 2017’s “Icarus” and last year‘s “American Factory.” The latter film shares a little something in common with “Crip Camp”: both are executive produced by Barack and Michelle Obama. Could a Netflix-Obama pairing go two-for-two at the Oscars?
“Crip Camp” is an inspirational and often funny look at Camp Jened, a New York summer camp for people with disabilities. The film illustrates how the camp influences its visitors, many of them experiencing a feeling of normalcy and acceptance for the first time in their lives. The campers are also exposed to the philosophies of the hippie movement.
Many campers adopted some of those anti-establishment values and participated in a series of demonstrations and sit-ins that eventually led to a series of reforms for disabled Americans, including the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. The film is directed by Nicole Newnham and James Lebrecht, who was born with spina bifida and is one of the film’s central figures.
“Crip Camp” has received universal critical acclaim, with a perfect 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes. Brian Tallerico (RogerEbert.com) says, “With deep filmmaking empathy that strikes a remarkable balance between delivering a universal message and telling very individual stories, ‘Crip Camp’ offers something we could all use more of — hope for the future.”
Writing for The Verge, Joshua Rivera argues that “calling ‘Crip Camp’ a feel-good movie feels contrary to its purpose, even as it is tremendously inspiring. It’s more of a reminder that something that seems impossible can be done.” And Rolling Stone‘s Peter Travers calls it an “inspirational documentary” and that it “defines what it means to call a movie ‘inspiring.'”
Since 2010 the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature has gone to films that are either profiles of celebrities like Amy Winehouse (2015’s “Amy”) and O.J. Simpson (2016’s “O.J.: Made in America”), or examinations of economic and political issues such as the American financial crisis (2010’s “Inside Job”) or an international doping scandal (2017’s “Icarus”). However, there have also been years when an inspirational film swept in and took the prize.
The 2012 Oscar winner “Undefeated” profiled a high school football team looking to end a years-long losing streak, while 2013’s “20 Feet from Stardom” celebrated the lives of background singers in the music industry. With 2020 being dominated by stories of pandemics and political and social turmoil, Oscar voters might look to a film that puts a smile on their faces while still having an eye towards activism. To that end, it can’t hurt to have a popular former president and first lady in your corner either.
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