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Poster artwork for Being Michelle featuring a woman holding up a paper with a drawing of herself on it, the film's logo, and various awards the film has received.

Being Michelle: Highlighting the Complex Lifestyle of Multiple Disabilities, Mental Health, and an Unjust System Through One Woman’s Journey

Los Angeles, CA, April 7 – “Being Michelle” is a powerful and emotional documentary film that follows the life of a Deaf woman with autism who has survived numerous instances of abuse and injustice at the hands of the U.S. incarceration system. The film had its world premiere at Big Sky Documentary Film Festival this week, and will soon screen at the Florida Film Festival as well. At its core, “Being Michelle” is a story about hope and resilience in the face of adversity due to one’s family upbringings, circumstances, and the ableist injustices of the U.S. incarceration system. No matter what you are going through, you are not alone, and this documentary is a reminder of that through the story of Michelle’s journey as she continues to be that ray of sunshine for others despite what she has gone through. Her story matters and is an example for others to be able to learn and take up space.

Throughout the film, audiences learn that Michelle experienced an abusive family dynamic growing up; a pattern and experience that unfortunately followed her into the incarceration system, where police officers were quick to condemn her due to a lack of understanding of her disabilities, and without really trying to understand her or why she was acting or behaving a certain way. The documentary really brings to light how society is quick to judge and make assumptions about someone without getting to know them, as in the case of Michelle, who was misunderstood and could not articulate what she wanted to say and express her emotions due to a lack of means to communication between the Hearing officers and prison employees and herself as a Deaf woman.

The heart-throbbing scenes throughout the film definitely highlight the reality of what people with multiple disabilities and/or identities face when they are ostracized for who they are and being different from the norm. The complex lifestyle and identities associated with mental health and disabilities is something not commonly discussed, especially within the larger conversation of incarceration systems. Due to this lack of conversation and awareness, there continues to be a substantial lack of resources, support, education, and accessibility within the U.S. prison system.

As someone who has also undergone family mental health traumas from a very young age, and also lives life being partially blind with autism, I can deeply connect and relate to Michelle’s experience and story. This documentary really captures the complexity of living with multiple disabilities and mental health trauma through its storytelling, as it gives viewers the experience of all the different layers of what a person can go through and experience in an environment that isn’t designed for them. The feeling of isolation and like you don’t fit in or get along with others was truly felt in the documentary, and similarly to Michelle having the support and becoming friends with her coach, I was in the same situation. My life coach became one of my main support systems and friends. She helped me heal and become fully seen for who I am despite my circumstances, using my own story and creativity to help others just as Michelle did. Stories matter, and by sharing them we can identify and connect with each other.

RespectAbility’s Vice Chair, Delbert Whetter serves as Executive Producer on the film, and RespectAbility 2021 Entertainment Lab Alumni Harold Foxx also serves as Associate Producer. Both men also identify as Deaf and played a huge role in bringing the film to life, along with Director/Producer/DP Atin Mehra; Producer Mae Thornton Mehra; and more. Read more about the incredible team behind “Being Michelle” at the official website.

“Stories about people with disabilities have long been told through the lens of those that lack our lived life experience,” said Whetter. “In this film, we see Michelle’s Story. Her voice can be seen through her hands, her artwork, and those who Michelle loves and cherish in her life.”

“I was attracted to Michelle’s Story because her story is not unique,” added Foxx. “She is one victim out of many deaf and disabled victims everywhere that face unfair treatment in our justice system.”

Overall, “Being Michelle” was a very relatable and insightful documentary that depicted the multifaceted layers of various disabilities: Deaf, autism, PTSD, mental health, depression, and others. The intersectional representation allows the viewer to see glimpses of different aspects of those disabilities through Michelle’s journey and experiences. I highly recommend this documentary for anyone who is curious about Michelle’s story and wants to understand the complex lifestyle and identities of living with multiple disabilities within the U.S. incarceration system.

To learn more about the film and where to watch it, visit the official website.

Meet the Author

Dennis Tran

Dennis Tran is a partially blind autistic quality professional and socialpreneur, living with glaucoma and family mental health traumas. He is a strong advocate and supporter for fair representation of Asian Americans in media, film, the arts, and the creative fields.

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