Three everyday people with traumatic brain injury disabilities use arts to reconnect to a sense of identity, self-pride, and community and to assert their agency and autonomy. This feature-length documentary centers the artists’ narratives, creating complex portraits that go beyond the medical aspects of brain injury that typically dominate educational media on the topic.

This film contains mature themes and adult language. Three short films, each focused on one person in the film, now available on DVD and Kanopy Streaming.

a "clear-eyed documentary.... For all three subjects, art serves as a saving grace." Recommended. ★★★

Video Librarian
Synopsis: 

Who Am I To Stop It is documentary about the traumatic brain injury community made by a filmmaker with disabilities from brain injury. It follows three artists as they navigate social isolation, stigma, and rebuilding their identities. They practice the arts to re-connect to their own sense of self-pride and to their larger communities. Rather than emphasize the injuries themselves or highlight medical aspects of disability, we explore consequences of institutional and internalized ableism. Through visual arts, music, and personal narrative, the subjects explore questions around poverty, sexuality, faith, family, success, and community. Using a biopsychosocial framework, Who Am I To Stop It deftly uncovers what lies beneath the surface for so many peers with brain injury and their communities. 

This film contains mature themes and adult language.

The documentary weaves together three distinct stories that cross age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, class, family support, and disability. Despite their different life contexts, the film reveals how brain injury survivors are complex, dynamic people with creative drive and agency. In the film, we witness interruptions to career plans, relationships, education, and family ties. Likewise, the viewer celebrates a sense of accomplishment as all three subjects present their art publicly for the first time with their new identities as peers with brain injury. Each subject proactively works to challenge their own and others' views of their worth and value by creating and sharing their art. By emphasizing daily life and storytelling over expert interviews, viewers are invited to question their assumptions about people with brain injury and what role the community can play in ending stigma and unlearning ableism.

 

Reviews

"...the most unfiltered view of the daily life of individuals who have had a traumatic brain injury that I've seen. If anyone wants to understand brain injury better, we have to look past the drama, past the list of impairments, to the person."

Sarah Key-DeLyria, PhD CCC-SLP, Portland State University

“Honest, human, richly textured…. Highly recommended viewing for all seeking an integrated, deeper understanding of the journey of life with TBI.”

Laurie Ehlhardt Powell, PhD, CCC-SLP & Ann Glang, PhD, Center on Brain Injury Research and Training at University of Oregon

"A groundbreaking and brilliant film on living with traumatic brain injury and the power of art."

Heidi von Ravensberg, Coordinator, University of Oregon Disability Studies Initiative

"Thank you for enhancing my awareness and for giving me the opportunity to support survivors with increased empathy."

Juliet Machado, OVT Vision Therapy Center Director, Lifetime Eye Care

"This film will contribute stimulating, contemporary subject matter for undergraduate and graduate classrooms, across disciplines of the sciences, arts, and humanities."

Ann Millett-Gallant, PhD, Lecturer in Art and Humanities at The University of North Carolina Greensboro

"Who Am I To Stop It pulls practitioners, students and educators out of the world of criteria and outcomes, and returns them to the human, whose voice, value, and evolution cannot and should not be stopped. This film is the missing piece to any curriculum."

Linda Williams, PhD, Founder and Creator: Invisible Disability Project

"Lists of symptoms in a textbook cannot do justice to the profundity of the changes experienced on an everyday level by individuals with a brain injury. Avoiding clinical terminology, sensationalism, and jargon, this compelling film follows the lives of three very different people in their search for coherence and understanding. By the end, we know them not as 'cases' but almost as intimate portraits of people from our own lives."

Andrew Palmer, PhD CCC-SLP, Oregon Health & Science University
Director's Commentary: 

After acquiring disabilities from brain injury in 2010, I tried to tell a people what I was going through. No matter what I said, people often responded that they had no idea what I was talking about. So I took one particularly frustrating example of how confusing life is with brain injury and turned it into a short film with my Co-Director Cynthia Lopez. Suddenly it all made sense. The distance between the viewer and the screen made my stories more understandable and approachable. I think it also helped that it was a comedy. Non-disabled people generally want to be reassured it's OK when disability is the topic. Not only did this short film open up much-needed dialogue about the struggles of living with brain injury, but the process opened me up to a new community of disabled artists and friends. They used art for critiquing an ableist, inaccessible world, not to inspire people with triumphant journeys of living with an impairment. Writing, rehearsing, and making a film turned out to also be good rehab for my brain. After a time, I wanted to see if other people with brain injuries experienced the arts in the way I did: a way to be listened to and understood, a place to express social critique or rage or joy, a process where you're so connected to your own self-worth and power, that disability stigma can't touch you for the moment. The public generally focuses on rehabilitation and medicine as what surely must be the cornerstone of life after brain injury. For some it can be, for a while. Yet in the hundreds of people I've met with brain injury in the past six years, every last person talks about identity, community, belonging, and seeking self-pride and self-love. This is what medicine can't provide. But it is a path that art can lead you down.

It was important for us to make a film from within the community, from someone with first-hand experience of brain injury disabilities who is also interested in examining issues from the disability rights, disability culture, and social justice perspectives. A lot of media presents disability stories through the lens of the non-disabled person looking in with curiosity for the gory medical details. As if the goal for all of us is to reveal ourselves to outsiders rather than go about our lives. Often, brain injury narratives are built on the foundation of horrific tragedy and cathartic recovery. The most popular stories are linear, the ones where the focus is on someone who has it all, loses it all, fights like hell, and regains a life worth living again (i.e., one where you can perform successfully within a capitalist system). Usually, the emphasis is on the personal tragedy and personal achievement of one lone brain injury survivor at a time. Rarely do these stories address the complexity of intersecting factors in someone's identity and disability experience like race, ethnicity, poverty, homelessness, incarceration, social isolation, violence, coercion, loss of family support, and stigma. Yet when you go beneath the glossy veneer of mainstream TBI portrayals, these other factors are at play more often than not. Our film creates space for a lot of these harder questions, and we allow the subjects to talk about so many other parts of their identities than just brain injury. It's easy for outsiders to forget we are just as complex as we were before, and we don't want you to forget that part.