At a point in the documentary “The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia”(which premieres on HBO October 29 at 6pm CST) the filmmakers sit down with David Boies. Boies has had a rather prestigious career as a lawyer, trying such cases as the antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft and the Supreme Court case Bush v. Gore during the 2000 election. Of far more interest are the comments he makes during the film. When Boies(who is himself dyslexic) talks about people that might have an issue with giving dyslexic students more time on a test to read(a common response to those who are diagnosed with dyslexia), he states that “…they don’t understand what the process of life is.”
But then one could argue, why give them the extra time at all if the tests don’t matter in the long term? Why should anyone care about dyslexia at all, if reading in school isn’t an indicator of one’s success in life? And that shines a light on one of the documentary’s big issues. There are abundant interviews with successful adults who happen to have dyslexia, ranging from famous business-world successes like Charles Schwab and Sir Richard Branson to an orthopedic surgeon, a lawyer, and a double-major college graduate. Even the children who are profiled started out struggling, but ended up on a path to success. Now, not every documentary has to have an unhappy story, but this one can’t really seem to decide whether it wants to call dyslexia a disability, disorder, or a different way of learning. If it’s merely a different way of learning, then why is awareness so important?
The fact that the viewer is still left with some confusion when “The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia” closes is inherent of a documentary that didn’t quite do its job. In particular, this viewer didn’t know a whole lot about the learning disorder(and at this point he still doesn’t know if ‘learning disorder’ is the appropriate way to describe it), and while he has a better understanding after watching the documentary, confusion still remains. It’s warming to see so many profiles of people finding success and living with dyslexia, but the time the film spends there doesn’t do a lot to educate. The film’s key subject matter expert, Dr. Sally Shaywitz, claims that 80-90 percent of all learning disabilities come from dyslexia. That figure is staggering, almost to the point of being questionable. And getting a second opinion is not the way a filmmaker wants to entice the viewer to seek more information on a particular subject.
“The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia” does clear up one large myth about the disorder, and those who know very little about dyslexia will certainly come away more knowledgeable if they see the film. It’s all those pesky questions that will linger when the credits roll that hold this doc back. Since education plays a key role in the film, let’s end with a school analogy: let’s imagine that the viewer watches this documentary in a classroom setting, and afterwards an instructor asks everyone to write out an answer to one question. The question: Why is dyslexia something I should care about? Even after watching “The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia” that question is tough to answer.
“The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia” premieres on HBO October 29 at 6pm CST.