Project: stuttering in movies

In this project, we explore the relationship between how stuttering is depicted in movies and how it actually is in reality. Read the introduction to the project below.

Table of contents

06/06 – Introduction: stuttering awareness is key (below)

28/06 – About the movie list

26/07 – How are the PWS and the stuttering portrayed?

More coming soon…

Introduction: Stuttering awareness is key

We all know that stuttering awareness is a very important issue. Of course, we people who stutter (PWS) know all about stuttering. And of course the people that love us and surround us know about it. 

But what about the great majority of people who do not know any PWS? 

If you reckon 1% of the world population are PWS, you could roughly say that 5% of the world (PWS & their surroundings) know about stuttering first hand. But what about the other 95%? What do they know about stuttering? Where do they get their information? 

This is where movies become important. 

Film is art, and art reflects life

Film is the most consumed art form – it reaches the most people worldwide. And it is very convenient to portray stuttering, because you have image and sound. 

So we wondered: how are stuttering and stuttering persons portrayed in movies? What’s their role in the film? Are they just in there for a good laugh, or do they serve a dramatic purpose? 

What about the stuttering itself? What kind of stuttering is it? Is it well played, is it believable? 

And how do the people react to the stuttering? Do they understand it and show empathy, or do they laugh with it or even reject the stuttering person? What about bullying? How often are PWS bullied? And what happens to the bullies? 

It all started in Iceland, 2019

At the ISA World Congress in Iceland 2019, Erik Lamens (president of the Belgian Stuttering Association BSV) presented ‘Stuttering in Movies’, showing clips of different films that portray stuttering. 

People were shocked, there were some really hard clips. In ‘The Cowboys’ (1972) John Wayne screams at a stuttering boy: “You can’t speak because you don’t want to hard enough!! You’re gonna stop stuttering or go home.” The boy is baffled but John Wayne keeps on shouting until the boy screams back. He is so angry he suddenly speaks fluently… and his stuttering is cured! We never see him stutter again.  

In ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ (2006) a very cruel captain during the Spanish civil war has captured a stuttering man. He promises him freedom if he can count to three. The stuttering man, of course, under the extreme stress, can’t. He stutters at “T-t-t-tres” (three in Spanish). And he is tortured and killed.

They are two very hard film clips indeed. But there is a difference: the first one is completely wrong. You can’t be more wrong than ‘The Cowboys’ when it comes to stuttering, its causes and its therapies. You do not ‘cure’ people from stuttering by screaming at them. 

The latter one, how cruel it may be, is correct. People who stutter speak less fluent under stressful circumstances: public speech, exams… And here the stress is extreme: being fluent means life – he stutters, so he dies. 

Does this mean stuttering awareness has improved from 1962 to 2006? We hope to find that out for you. 

The project

It became christal clear profound research was needed. 

After Iceland we formed an international team, under the leadership of Erik Lamens (BEL) and Gijs Jonker (NLD). We identified 543 movies, documentaries and tv-series with stuttering. We started watching and reviewing. 

We made a Google Form covering all possible aspects of stuttering (58 questions in total). 

And now we are very proud to present you the first intermediate results. 

We will publish them in series and chapters, each covering some items of the research. 

Help welcome

If you are interested, you can join the team and review movies. 

The team now consists of people of Belgium, The Netherlands, Finland, Norway and Latvia. Everybody is welcome but we are certainly interested in people coming from other languages, cultures and continents. We can cover most films in the languages we know and in subtitled version, but sometimes there are none available. And maybe you know films we maybe don’t know about.

Write a mail at stuttmov@gmail.com if you are interested in joining the team or if you have any questions.

Clips

The Cowboys: completely wrong use of stuttering – a stuttering boy is cured by John Wayne shouting at him

Pan’s Labyrinth: very dramatic but correct use of stuttering – a PWS gets killed because he stutters

(Spanish spoken, English subtitles: switch on CC in the bottom right corner)

Erik Lamens (BEL) & Gijs Jonker (NDL), 24st of May 2020

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