by Sky Lynn Wison
The Peanut Butter Falcon is more than merely a feel-good movie. It evokes insight into the circumstance faced by many individuals with intellectual disabilities. Zak, a young man with Down Syndrome, lives in a senior assisted living facility sharing a room with a man 3-4 times his age. The beginning scenes reflect the restrictive nature individuals face and the portrayal of risk, versus overprotection.
Eleanor, a well-meaning volunteer at the facility, like everyone else, underestimates Zak’s abilities. Her concern for Zak’s safety, and outdated belief systems clouds her judgement in the way she treats him. It puts the spotlight on how even meaningful, concerned decisions, inadvertently diminish Zak’s quality of life. We quickly learn to enrich one’s life, decision making abilities, is primary, to living an authentic life.
Zac’s journey of self-actualization begins when he escapes from the facility to pursue his dream of becoming a pro wrestler. Zac befriends Tyler, a fisherman struggling with his own demons after the loss of his brother. Tyler not only sees Zac’s potential but encourages his self-confidence in some unconventional ways. The two unlikely friends bond unexpectedly, and it’s clear that Zac’s strengths of kindness, and non-judgmental disposition contributes to Tyler’s life as well. This is a prime example of the importance of living within the community, and the vital contribution of people with intellectual disabilities.
At one point in the movie the “R” word is used repeatedly. It makes reference to the fact that treating someone, less than their ability, is just as toxic, hurtful and disempowering as the “R” word. When interacting with the people we support, we have to be mindful and acknowledge that our actions are just as hurtful as the words we use. Our actions as support staff, and employees have the greatest of power in changing the stigmas in society. We are the example!
In the end the movie conveys the wrestling persona “The Peanut Butter Falcon”, but is a true vision of Zac’s abilities, once given the opportunity to express and live it!