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Owning Your Narrative with “Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie”

Michael J. Fox with his hand on his chin in a scene from "Still"

A still from Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie, by Davis Guggenheim an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute.

Park City, Utah, Jan. 25 – Presented as an interview and told through both archival and scripted elements, Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie is about owning your narrative, which often is difficult for disabled individuals to do. All too often, society determines the worth of an individual based on preconceived notions. Even when the most successful people acquire a disability, society is quick to judge and make assumptions that they are now less than.

This led Michael J. Fox to hide his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, which he received at 29 years of age (younger than most), for seven years. He would mask trembling by twiddling with an object in his left hand and timed his pills, popping them “like Halloween Smarties” to have the most effect when he was working.

“Therapeutic value, comfort – none of these were the reason I took these pills. There was only one reason: to hide,” Fox says in the documentary. “I became a virtuoso of manipulating drug intake so that I’d peak at exactly the right time and place.”

But Fox, now 61 and actively working through the Michael J. Fox Foundation to find a cure for Parkinson’s, also said, “If you pity me, it’s never going to get to me … I’m a tough son of a bitch. I’m a cockroach.”

“I realized I didn’t have to do anything other than be myself,” Fox says in the documentary. “I was still me, people recognized. Just me plus Parkinson’s.”

Fox went on to authentically represent Parkinson’s in shows such as The Good Wife, defying common tropes associated with disabled people on screen. “Some people would view the news of my disease as an ending,” Fox says in the documentary. “But I was starting to sense that it was really a beginning.”

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie premiered at Sundance Film Festival on Friday, January 20. It was directed by Oscar winning filmmaker David Guggenheim, who asked Fox insightful questions, allowing Fox to share more about living with Parkinson’s, including the constant pain.

When asked about pain and why he did not share before being asked, Fox says he is in intense pain, but it is not something he brings up all the time. “I’m not gonna lead with it.” He takes some medication to help subdue the effects of Parkinson’s, telling Guggenheim he is “waiting for the bus,” i.e., waiting for it to work.

He also shares that due to Parkinson’s, he does fall a lot, something his family worries about. But he says this in a matter of a fact way, simply stating “gravity is real.” There is no sense of pity for himself from either Fox or Guggenheim.

“I wanted to be in the world and not take this and retreat from the world,” Fox says in the film.

Still: A Michael J. Fox Movie will be released on Apple TV+ later this year.

Meet the Author

Lauren Appelbaum

Lauren Appelbaum is the VP, Communications and Entertainment & News Media, of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so all people with disabilities can fully participate in every aspect of community. As an individual with an acquired nonvisible disability – Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy – she works at the intersection of disability, employment, Hollywood and politics. She regularly conducts trainings on the why and how to be more inclusive and accessible for entertainment executives throughout the industry. Appelbaum partners with studios, production companies and writers’ rooms to create equitable and accessible opportunities to increase the number of people with lived disability experience throughout the overall story-telling process. These initiatives increase diverse and authentic representation of disabled people on screen, leading to systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities. She has consulted on more than 100 TV episodes and films with A&E, Bunim-Murray Productions, NBCUniversal, Netflix, ViacomCBS, and The Walt Disney Company, among others. She represents RespectAbility on the CAA Full Story Initiative Advisory Council, Disney+ Content Advisory Council, MTV Entertainment Group Culture Code and Sundance Institute’s Allied Organization Initiative. She is the author of The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit and the creator of an innovative Lab Program for entertainment professionals with disabilities working in development, production and post-production. She is a recipient of the 2020 Roddenberry Foundation Impact Award for this Lab. To reach her, email [email protected]

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