Private Project

Code of the Freaks

Code of the Freaks is a movie about movies -- a darkly humorous critique of Hollywood representations of disability, told from the perspectives of disabled artists, writers, and cultural critics.

    Brink of Survival, Turning a Corner, Crimes Against Humanity, Doin' It: Sex, Disability & Videotape, Real Talk, Why They Gotta Do Me Like That?,
  • Susan Nussbaum
    Good Kings Bad Kings, Mishuganismo, No One as Nasty
  • Carrie Sandahl
    Gimp Parade
  • Alyson Patsavas
  • Salome Chasnoff, Susan Nussbaum, Alyson Patsavas, Carrie Sandahl
  • Mat Fraser
    Key Cast
    American Horror Story, Unarmed But Dangerous, Helen of Troy,
  • Lawrence Carter-Long
    Key Cast
    TCM Presents - The Projected Image: A History of Disability in Film, The Homecoming: A Musical, Diffability Hollywood, Penn & Teller: Bullshit!
  • Tekki Lomnicki
    Key Cast
    The Miracle, Tellin’ Tales Theatre
  • Riva Lehrer
    Key Cast
    Paper Mirror, Self Preservation: The Art of Riva Lehrer, Variations, Golem Girl
  • Tsehaye Hebert
    Key Cast
    The C.A. Lyons Project, pygMALI
  • Jerzy Rose
    Director of Photography + Editor
    Nobody Likes You As Much As I Do, En Plein Air, Neighborhood Food Drive, Crimes Against Humanity, Some Girls Never Learn, All Ghost Women Play the Theremin, The Universe & Young Pilot Nelson
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 8 minutes 31 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    January 31, 2020
  • Production Budget:
    37,670 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Distribution Information
  • Kino Lorber
    Country: United States
    Rights: All Rights, Internet, Video on Demand, Pay Per View, Hotel, Airline, Ship, Theatrical, Video / Disc, Free TV, Paid TV, Console / Handheld Device
    Country: Canada
    Rights: All Rights, Internet, Video on Demand, Pay Per View, Hotel, Airline, Ship, Theatrical, Video / Disc, Free TV, Paid TV, Console / Handheld Device
Director Biography - SALOME CHASNOFF

Salome Chasnoff (Director, Producer) is a Chicago-based filmmaker and installation artist who maintains a collaborative social practice and exhibition career that centers the voices of under-recognized or misrepresented communities. Her work has shown across the US and internationally in film festivals, galleries, and museums including National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington DC; Theaster Gates’ Stony Island Arts Bank, Chicago; Frameline Film Festival, San Francisco; Creative Time’s Democracy in America; Chicago Humanities Festival; Superfest Best of the Fest, Berkeley CA; Black Harvest International Film and Video Festival; Toronto Lesbian and Gay Film and Video Festival; and the United Nations. Awards include Purpose Prize Fellow, Women’s eNews Ida B Wells Bravery in Journalism Award and 21 Leaders for the 21st Century, Chicago Foundation for Women Impact Award, and the Illinois Humanities Council Towner Award. She was the founder and director of the celebrated community media organization, Beyondmedia Education, and a founding member of the PO Box Collective, a multi-generational social practice center. Chasnoff teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she also directs the BFA in Art Education program.

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Director Statement

Just about everyone in the disability community knows that the quickest way to an Oscar is to play a disabled character. Even my hairdresser observed this just the other day as we were discussing Joaquin Phoenix’s recent win for Joker. While the Academy and Hollywood audiences may find these movies and their lead actors worthy of the highest artistic honors, many in the disability community feel they can tell more accurate stories about how society, media and government view and treat disabled people—and for them, these stories are generally not so celebratory.

These are the stories we capture in Code of the Freaks. More than a decade in the making, the film grew out of writer-producer Susan Nussbaum’s desire to spark a conversation in the disability community about the portrayal of disabled characters in Hollywood movies. Years before, as a young woman, Susan became disabled suddenly as the result of an accident. At the time, she knew nothing about disability and had no models except those she’d seen in the movies, like Quasimodo, Baby Jane, and Tiny Tim. Fortunately, Susan soon discovered the disability rights movement and met real disabled people. Yet she continued to witness and experience the harmful effects of media representation of disability. When together we made a series of short documentaries with disabled girls, I came to understand how dual consciousness – the conflict between how others saw them and how they saw themselves –affected their self-image.

To launch our conversation, the group that was to become the Code of the Freaks’ creative team hosted a salon series in community settings around Chicago, presenting montages of Hollywood clips featuring disabled characters organized in themes – blind men and women, magical creatures, the kill or cure option – and filmed the discussions. The impassioned reactions of our audiences encouraged us to develop this film.

We wanted to make a movie that would give viewers tools to better understand what they’re watching. We called upon disabled artists, writers, scholars and activists to confront the dilemma of the disabled body onscreen, and present real-life alternatives to the stock characters and tired plots that exoticize, idealize, ridicule or demonize disabled characters.

Movies have the power to shape the beliefs and behaviors of non-disabled people toward people with disabilities, and of disabled people toward themselves. Movies build astonishing fictional worlds where they hold us captive on two-hour journeys, worming their way into our psyches. They shape our expectations in ways we’re not always aware of – especially in cases where the films provide our only references for unfamiliar experiences. We love movies and it’s a powerful love that can be mesmerizing. But the consequences can be toxic.