Crip Camp Parent Guide
Streaming on Netflix: A fascinating story of a summer camp where teens acquired the confidence and skills they subsequently used to challenge society's limits.
Parent Movie Review
Summer camp is a great place to make friends, roast marshmallows, paddle canoes, play baseball, steal a kiss, and generally enjoy being free. But for some teens, summer camp is where they learn to change the world.
Crip Camp tells the remarkable story of a group of disabled teens who attended Camp Jened in the early 1970s. Designed as a place where “teens can be teens without labels and stereotyping” the camp brought disabled kids together for the usual summer activities. By the 1970s, Camp Jened had developed a decided hippie vibe which encouraged open communication and listening to a variety of perspectives. (“We didn’t want to sideline anybody. We were willing to listen.”) Teens who were warehoused in special ed programs, struggled with overprotective parents, or who were institutionalized, were exhilarated by the freedom and acceptance they found on site. As one Jened alumnus said, “What we saw at that camp was that our lives could be better.” And with the bonds they forged at camp, these newly confident young people spread across the USA and formed the core of what would become the disability rights movement.
Crip Camp is a fascinating story in a sometimes uninspiring package. The first portion of the movie is composed of home movie footage of the camp which provides a sense of immediacy and ably transmits the enthusiasm and joie de vivre of the campers. Sadly, it can be slow and plodding and would have benefited from tighter editing. Contemporary interviews with camp alumni are particularly interesting, giving an up-close look at their early lives and experiences of discrimination. Their explanations of the self-affirming experience they had at Camp Jened are genuinely touching.
The second half of the film pivots away from Camp Jened and focuses on the disability rights movement, with an emphasis on the activities of Jened alumni. In particular, the movie follows the activities of Judith Heumann, a polio survivor, as she fights first, for the enforcement of the anti-discrimination provisions of the 1972 Rehabilitation Act and then for the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. Heumann doesn’t work alone, and the production notes the many other Jened campers and counselors who become prominent activists. As James Lebrecht, Director and camp alumnus says, “This camp changed the world and nobody knows the story.”
There is a lot to like about this documentary, particularly its emphasis on the intrinsic value of all human beings. The movie rightly and not surprisingly celebrates the gifts and perspectives of our disabled fellow citizens and demands their inclusion in all aspects of civic life. In telling the story of this group of activists, the production shares themes of justice, courage, unity, persistence, problem solving, and sacrifice. Unfortunately, these positive messages come with some negative content, including occasional profanity and frequent scenes of teen smoking. Most worrying for parents will be the cavalier attitude towards sexuality, with a major figure discussing a case of gonorrhea she acquired after having an affair. A scene where a transvestite does a strip tease down to his underwear will also be out of sync with many family’s viewing standards.
Content concerns aside, Crip Camp provides a context to make every viewer appreciate the words of President George H.W. Bush, “With today’s signing of the landmark Americans for Disabilities Act, every man, woman, and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence, and freedom.” And who would have guessed that one of the first cracks in that door would have begun in a ramshackle camp in the Catskills twenty years before?Directed by James Lebrecht, Nicole Newnham. Starring Larry Allison, Dennis Billups, Judith Heumann, James Lebrecht. Running time: 106 minutes. Theatrical release March 25, 2020. Updated April 10, 2020
Watch the trailer for Crip Camp
Rating & Content Info
Why is Crip Camp rated R? Crip Camp is rated R by the MPAA for some language including sexual references
Violence: None noted.
Sexual Content: A transvestite does a striptease down to his underwear, removing an outfit which features hands sewn over the bust. A man mentions enjoying having a woman’s hand on his genitals. Teens mention “making out”. A woman briefly mentions having an affair and then developing a sexually transmitted infection.
Profanity: There are three uses of a sexual expletive and one picture of a sexual hand gesture. There are a handful of terms of deity and multiple uses of crude terms for male and female anatomy.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Teens and adults are frequently shown smoking cigarettes. There’s mention of teens doing drugs, but that isn’t shown on screen.
Page last updated April 10, 2020
Crip Camp Parents' Guide
What do you think are the social benefits of improving access to the disabled? What talents or gifts would our society lose if the disabled were unable to achieve their potential? Do you have disabled friends or family members? How would you be affected if they weren’t part of your life?
The disabled rights movement drew inspiration from the civil rights movement. Do either of those movements inspire you? Why? How does that affect the way you live, treat others, vote, or socialize?
The most recent home video release of Crip Camp movie is March 25, 2020. Here are some details…
Related home video titles:
Music Within is an enthralling biopic about Richard Pimentel, whose injury in Vietnam led him to become an advocate for the disabled. Pimentel’s activities dovetail with the political activism depicted in Crip Camp.
In The Upside, an ex-con winds up being hired as a personal care attendant for a wealthy quadriplegic, which changes both their lives.
When polio leaves him permanently paralyzed, Robin Cavendish is ready to give up and die. But his wife refuses to let him quit. Breathe tells the story of their marriage and how the couple changed the world for the severely disabled.
A man with a moderate learning disability struggles to assert his rights in I Am Sam. A man with Down’s Syndrome escapes the institution in which he’s been housed and seeks a future as a pro wrestler in The Peanut Butter Falcon.
A disabled foster kid becomes a superhero’s sidekick (and so much more) in Shazam!