What’s the first rule? Party!
A twenty two year old man living in a retirement home has little chance to follow his own advice and enjoy the freedom of parties and everything that goes along with such merriment. It’s no wonder he lathers himself up and executes a daring escape from what he’s meant to call home.
I came out of the cinema beaming after watching The Peanut Butter Falcon. To me, the film feels ground breaking; a man with Down Syndrome in the lead role. There is a tangible honesty in his character and a forthright sparkle that reminds me of some people with the same condition that I know. From my experience, I understand Down Syndrome to bring character traits that include immense positivity and infectious charm, fierce independence in decision making, an incredible sense of rhythm and eye for detail.
One young man that I used to play tennis with paid compliments to people in a way that nobody else could, bringing people together and lifting any mood. In recent times, he spoke at the UN about his experiences working for the environment agency. A man that I used to work with had the most extraordinary ability to draw portraits with an utter conviction and confidence that I have seldom seen in anyone else. A young woman I used to know would regularly arrange social events with lots of friends. She would always walk her friends who were less confident travellers to their bus stops and wait with them, wanting them not to feel worry. People with Down Syndrome have qualities and abilities as unique and wonderful as any other individual.
I am really pleased to be able to showcase the work of craftspeople who have the condition at The Craft Unit. One young woman that I met at Workshop 305 in London has a particular skill in ceramics, and has made some of the porcelain bowls in my ceramics department. I remember her talking about a film star when I visited - I wonder if she has been to see The Peanut Butter Falcon!
The film follows Zak (played by Zack Gottsagen), who has Down Syndrome as he goes on a quest to find his wrestling idol ‘The Salt Water Redneck’ He finds friendship in a runaway fisherman, both help each other to grow and heal wounds of the past. It’s a friendship that becomes true, precious and fundamentally mutual as they journey through the watery landscape of North Carolina. Later, they even convince Zak’s bereft support worker that they must continue this essential quest.
Zak gets a taste of life that is led by him, a life where he chooses what he will and won’t do – well, with a little help from Shia LaBoeuf’s wanderlust character. It’s certainly a world away from the life of social care that detains him and showers him with labels including ‘flight risk’.
It’s inconceivable that a man of twenty two would be placed in a retirement home, a broad brush stroke that denotes a lack of agency, winding down in life and diminished future prospects. The film, however, very much unfurls a brighter future for the vivacious young man.
It left me thinking about the Shared Lives scheme that we have here in the UK, and how it seems such a positive opportunity for people with learning disabilities in adulthood. An antidote to residential homes where professionalism can eat away at true care and human affection. Instead, a family take an individual into their home and effectively ‘share’ their lives with them. Relationships build and often thrive for years. Should there be a sequel to The Peanut Butter Falcon, I hope that we would see Zak’s life taking this path with his co-adventurers.