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The Independent Critic

Alexander Freeman, Orina Umansky Freeman, Maya Freeman
Alexander Freeman
Alexander Freeman, Michaelle McGaraghan
56 Mins.

 Movie Review: My Own Normal 
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When you grow up with a disability, you're very often told lots of things. 

You may be told that you won't survive. You may be told that you won't thrive. You may be told that you won't be able to live, love, learn, work, play, and obtain your hopes and dreams because your disability will always hold you back. 

When you grow up with a disability, you're told that you're anything but normal and normal is beyond your reach. 


Award-winning filmmaker Alexander Freeman was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at the age of two. He was raised by loving and supportive parents, a love that is evident throughout his feature doc My Own Normal. 

Yet, what's even more evident throughout My Own Normal is that Alexander Freeman's hopes and dreams transcended the life that his parents had envisioned for him and entered the realm far too often considered impractical and even impossible for those with significant disabilities - Alexander wanted to be in a loving relationship with a woman and he wanted to have a family of his own. 

My Own Normal follows Alexander's life when it seems as if this very thing will happen. A chance meeting at a film screening introduces Alexander to the delightful Orina, a hopeful yet realistic spirit who acknowledges that before meeting Alexander she had very little experience around disability. The two do more than hit it off - they spark in the kind of way that makes you realize this may not be easy but it's where we're meant to be. Soon, their daughter Maya is born and the two have a commitment ceremony, start their lives together, start figuring out life's challenges, and Alexander begins to expand the definition of what it means to be a father alongside his life partner. 

While it may not be society's definition of normal, it's Alexander's own normal and his parents, despite their early reservations about the pregnancy, come to realize that this son they raised to love can, indeed, love extraordinarily well and live a normal and independent life and have a family of his own. 

Possessing equal parts poetry and reality, after all that's the way love is, My Own Normal is directed by Freeman himself with a narrative he constructs alongside Michaelle McGaraghan. My Own Normal has a refreshingly honest voice to it. While the film inspires, it's not the kind of inspiration the late British comic/activist Stella Young called "inspiration porn." Instead, My Own Normal inspires through its hard-earned honesty and the relentless spirit possessed by both Alexander and Orina that is also grounded in occasionally harsh everyday realities of living with cerebral palsy. 

If you know cerebral palsy, you know that it often varies in its impact. Having cerebral palsy may mean that you're a quadriplegic or a paraplegic or someone who walks with an unsteady gait. Other times, you may have a speech complication so profound people can barely understand you. The possibilities are seemingly endless. At 36-years-old, Freeman has already lived longer and better than some with cerebral palsy. The Emerson College graduate has made a name for himself in the film industry and is likely to continue doing so with this latest documentary. In addition to these things, he's a motorized wheelchair user who requires significant physical assistance as part of daily life. 

Both of these things, the wonder and the challenge of life, can peacefully co-exist. Indeed, despite society's assertions otherwise, it is entirely possible to live a happy and meaningful life with cerebral palsy and many other disabilities. This is a vision Freeman carries for his own life - showing people this joy while acknowledging the ongoing challenges. 

United in a commitment ceremony, Alexander and Orina are a lovely couple. Having learned that Alexander's benefits would be significantly impacted if the two actually legally wed (one of many ways our systems of support actually reinforce institutionalized ableism), the two instead joyously commit their lives to one another surrounded by their friends and family and, of course, Maya. 

My Own Normal is, most appropriately, a documentary that reinforces the normalcy of the disabled life along with those with disabilities living, loving, working, playing, parenting, chasing dreams, and creating families. This IS normal, of course, but it's so seldom realized in the media that I found myself with a big grin on my face throughout My Own Normal. 

As a film journalist and creative myself living with spina bifida, and about twenty years older than Freeman, I can't help but celebrate when a film gets disability right and shines a positive spotlight on it with an authentic voice. Indeed, that's exactly what happens with My Own Normal. As an affirmation of its strong messaging about life, love, and disability inclusion, My Own Normal also drew Academy Award-winner longtime disability inclusion advocates Chris Cooper and spouse Marianne Leone as executive producers. 

There's much to love about My Own Normal, a creative voice for inclusion but also an even stronger voice for those with disabilities to determine what that means for themselves. Freeman is honest that My Own Normal is his most personal film yet, an emotionally honest and vulnerable film about learning to define one's own sense of what it means to be normal and what it means to live and love, work and play, and become a family. 

Currently on the film festival circuit, My Own Normal is a film to watch for and definitely check out.

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic