“The first time I saw Jonah do stand-up comedy, he told a joke about how he could die at any time. The punchline was that his doctor was trying to kill him. People laughed, a lot. And I was immediately struck by his confidence, dark sense of humor and his ease he had telling a room full of strangers he was dying. In addition to comedy, Jonah was able to connect with people and effectively communicate his experience as a visual artist, activist and mayoral candidate. In Jonah’s own words, “I think all different things that I’m doing are related. It’s taking things that are real and things that can be serious or difficult to deal with, flipping them around so they seem fun or funny.”
Jonah wasn’t alone. He had a huge community of people who supported and adored him: family, friends, fellow comedians. And he mastered the ability to humorously discuss his mortality and confront others on their assumptions about his use of a wheelchair. I made this film to showcase Jonah’s life and legacy, not his disability. Disability narratives are typically framed to inspire us just by the thought of someone who is “confined” to a wheelchair doing something mundane or able to accomplish “despite all the odds.”
Jonah’s disability is one aspect of a much more complex and interesting picture, it’s not something to be pitied, it’s just a fact of his life. Everyone adapts to the body they have, but Jonah couldn’t ride the streetcar, enter certain restaurants, and even had to leave high school because it wasn’t wheelchair accessible. By creating media that accurately and honestly depicts his experience, we are getting a window into the life of so many other people who are more comfortable with themselves than our society is with them.”
Hannah Engelson is a documentary filmmaker and freelance cinematographer. With a background in photojournalism, she specializes in capturing compelling moments using an observational approach. She has contributed to various publications and broadcasts including NBC Universal, Business Insider, American Masters, VICE News Tonight, Short of the Weak and numerous independent short and feature length documentaries.
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