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Do Not Pass on Cory Reeder’s “Smash or Pass” Short

For this year’s Easterseals Disability Film Challenge, Cory Reeder (he/him) wrote and directed a short on the trials and tribulations of being a female wheelchair user on the dating apps. The Disability Challenge gives participants five days to write, shoot, edit and submit a film around one common theme. This year’s genre was romance, allowing for stories around strong disabled romantic leads, which so far have been lacking from the RomCom space. As with many of this year’s entries, Reeder’s story is both funny and poignant.

The short begins with Ariel, a wheelchair user, played excellently by Joci Scott, swiping through the dating app “Smash or Pass.” The app is showing stereotypical dating app men from “Mr. Bassman” to Prince Charming; even Reeder makes a quick cameo on the app. Then, we watch Ariel go on a series of bad first dates. All of these men at some point say something different but still problematic about her disability. Many of these comments fall into classic disability tropes we see in the media, such as being seen as inspirational or the assumption that people with disabilities want to be cured. However, in this case, these tropes are being used to create comedy and show how ridiculous these assumptions are when said out loud.

Reeder was inspired to make this short film because in the last year, he himself started to use dating apps and said he would ask women about their experiences and “literally, every woman I met had a horror story to tell.” Reeder thought that there must be some shocking online dating stories for women with disabilities. While Reeder focused on specifics in this short, he ended up with some rather common realities around dating for women with disabilities.

Both the short and dating app are called “Smash or Pass,” which is the same title as a problematic internet trend from a few years ago. In a discussion about this naming choice, Reeder said, “The term is so basic, lacks nuance, personality, or character – what better way to sum up crappy app dating experiences? Not to mention, I wanted to poke fun at toxic masculinity.” The title and how it is viewed outside of this short is just one choice that Reeder made to poke fun at dating apps. In the edit, Reeder chose to transition scenes based on a swipe left or right depending on if the interaction was problematic or unproblematic – creating a subtle guide for people.

After the problematic dates, Ariel goes to talk to her friend Ginny, played by 2020 Entertainment Lab Alumna, Diana Elizabeth Jordan. Ginny’s advice is both hilarious and empowering. In talking about Ginny’s loving advice, Jordan said “it is really important for me to tell stories of mature women who are confident in themselves, accept and love themselves. We also got to show positive images of two women supporting one another.” There are not enough of these types of conversations currently in media and it was refreshing to see this friendship on screen. It both exemplifies cross-disability friendship and disabled women being confident in the physical aspects of themselves.

The short ends with Ariel running into Prince Charming, played by Drew Timberlake Hill, again. However, this time he recognizes that he was originally condescending and asks for a second try. This moment is crucial because it shows non-disabled growth and the reality that given the underrepresentation of disabled, people are going to make mistakes and assumptions around disability, but be willing to learn. Hopefully, those learning opportunities will need to happen less and less with short films like “Smash or Pass” out there.

Reeder wanted to create “an opportunity for everyone to see a bit of themselves in the film… and make adjustments if necessary” as well as discuss the importance of respect and empathy. That is a lot to do in a five-minute short, but he pulls it off. Messages are sometimes best received “in small bites with a few laughs.” The short is highly recommended!

Meet the Author

Maddie Jones

Maddie Jones graduated from Pomona College in Claremont, CA. She believes that stories are the fundamental building blocks of society and that if we want to see significant change for the disability community, we must start by influencing the stories we tell and see.

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