Jury Coordination and Notes

Intelligent Lives – Eye Opener About the Power to Contribute Regardless of One’s Intellectual Ability

From award-winning filmmaker Dan Habib comes Intelligent Lives, a catalyst to transform the label of intellectual disability from a life sentence of isolation into a life of possibility for the most systematically segregated people in America. Intelligent Lives stars three pioneering young American adults with intellectual disabilities – Micah, Naieer, and Naomie – who challenge perceptions of intelligence as they navigate high school, college, and the workforce. Academy Award-winning actor and narrator Chris Cooper contextualizes the lives of these central characters through the emotional personal story of his son Jesse, as the film unpacks the shameful and ongoing track record of intelligence testing in the U.S. Intelligent Lives challenges what it means to be intelligent, and points to a future in which people of all abilities can fully participate in higher education, meaningful employment and intimate relationships.

Intelligent Lives

By Terry Solowey, KIDS FIRST! Adult Juror

This documentary opens one’s eyes to the power of determination to contribute to society regardless of the label of “intellectual disability”. We follow three young adults through their personal journeys to make a life for themselves. They had me rooting for them throughout the entire film. I admire their chutzpah and determination.

What amazed me are the historical references showing how they would have been treated if born in the early 20th century. They would have been sent to institutions or might have been forcibly sterilized like the 60,000 that were before 1950. This was called the eugenics movement.  As recently as 1975, they would  have had no legal access to a public education.

This film’s mission is to transform the label of intellectual disability once known as “mentally retarded” into a life of possibility.  We watch Naieer, Micah and Naomie as they work through high school, college and the workforce to accomplish their goals. Micah, born in 1984, is determined to succeed. He goes to Syracuse University and graduates with a certificate from the school of education to become a teaching assistant. He gives us a new outlook and perspective on someone with an IQ of 40, being quite savvy with social media.  He is a constant reminder not to underestimate what people can do. After college, he learns to live on his own and becomes close with a fellow classmate, Meghan and helps her to advocate for herself.

Naieer, born in 1999, has a great talent for art, takes general education in inclusion classes, and is a great basketball player at a public high school in Massachusetts. Through the Art for Cultural Inclusion show, he creates six wonderful paintings.  Naomie is 25, loves to sing and dance at her church in Rhode Island with her hip-hop producer brother, and works toward and gets her first paying job through a job training program at a hair salon.

There are many poignant moments as we watch these three work toward their goals.  I have admiration for all of them. Their circles of support – the people,  teachers and family who work with them – have great patience and show great caring for each one of them. My favorite moments are seeing Micah visit Meghan’s family and socialize with her at a party, watching Naieer at his art show and cheering Naomie on  when she learns she has a position at a beauty parlor. Viewing this film gives you a real glimpse and sense of their individual personalities.

These three stories are brought together to examine the nature of intelligence by the actor Chris Cooper and his wife Marianne as they share the connection to the film and tell us about their son Jesse, whose intelligence has been questioned because he has cerebral palsy. Jesse however, became a high school honor student and a poet, before his death at age 17.

We see the fight against segregation based on ability in action.  Intelligence looks different for everyone.

This film gives one a new perspective on disability and labels. Differences make us stronger, not divide us. These three young adults show us what perseverance and chutzpah can to do to work through challenges. It is quite uplifting and makes a powerful statement. People of all abilities and talents can fully participate in life in an inclusive world.

I give this film 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 12 to 18, as well as adults. I highly recommend this film for the insights, knowledge, awareness and accomplishments that have been made by these young peoples who continue to do so. It opens in New York City on September 21, 2018 with a national release to follow.

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