Remove 'The Mermaid' from the Mental Health Channel's Film Fest!
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'The Mermaid’ is a film by Italome Ohikhuare about a young woman and her relationship with her brother who is diagnosed with schizophrenia. It is reportedly based on Italome’s real-life experiences with her real-life brother, for whom she claims this piece is a ‘gift’.
The film is an unfortunate 13-minute propaganda piece for Involuntary Outpatient Commitment (aka Assisted Outpatient Treatment, AOT, or Representative Tim Murphy’s favorite pet), that attempts to paint itself as a “moving love story about a young woman torn between her blossoming relationship with her boyfriend and her chaotic but endearing relationship with her brother.”
But ‘love’ should be the furthest thing from anyone's mind as they watch the main character (Sirah) interacting with her boyfriend (Jay) who’s attempting to manipulate her into bed, or her violent and erratic brother (Deji) who she screams repeatedly “just needs his pills.” In fact, this film is troubling at many levels both from a standpoint of racismand psychiatric oppression. Here’s a brief list of the whys:
- The film re-enforces dangerous racial stereotypes: Deji is a young black man *wearing a hoodie* and is repeatedly painted as violent and frightening, particularly toward Jay (who is a white man). There is little that could make this film any less racially sensitive given today’s climate.
- Except this: Jay (the white, professionally dressed lawyer boyfriend who is physically attacked by Deji) rescues him from drowning at the end of the film.
- The film promotes significant misunderstandings about how psychiatric drugs work in both the short and long-term: Sirah screams (more than once) that Deji will be alright if he just gets his pills. However, unless we’re speaking of tranquilizer darts (or other heavy sedatives) and unless we’re defining ‘alright’ as ‘incapacitated by sleep’, there is no pill that would have such immediate effect. Furthermore, Sirah’s screechy insistence re-enforces the erroneous belief that psychotropics are the key, ignoring all the research that now suggests that they often lead to little improvement and not infrequently can make things worse.
- The film promotes the idea that people with psychiatric diagnoses like schizophrenia are scary and dangerous: Although there’s little real-word research to suggest that people with psychiatric diagnoses are at greater risk of violence than the average person, Deji has his hands around Jay’s throat three times within the first five minutes of the Mermaid. This is followed immediately by Jay yelling that he needs to be “Baker Acted” and suggesting that he’s going to “kill someone”.
- The film promotes hopelessness and perpetuates the idea that people with diagnoses like schizophrenia will forever be tormented and dangerous:Hopeless statistics and propaganda about the schizophrenia diagnosis are tacked on to the end of the film, and the promotional website spouts this little gem at the conclusion of its ‘about’ section: “But the most unexpected moment comes at the end of the film, when they’re all confronted with…the tragic reality that this story, just like schizophrenia, can’t have a happy ending.” (See the film’s full website here)
- The film perpetuates the idea that there’s psychiatric drugs and hospitalization or there’s nothing, and that force is an inevitability: Apparently, Sirah’s been trying to support Deji in almost complete isolation, and the film (however unintentionally) paints that and the forced hospitalization he experiences by the end not as two extremes on a fairly broad spectrum, but as point A to point B on a two-point scale. In fact, her boyfriend reassures her that she “did the right thing,” and had “no other choice”. The truth is, though, that there are many choices in how to support people who are going through extreme states, and great harm done through the use of force. Meanwhile, the use of force, while often an act of desperation by otherwise decent people, represents a failure of the system, and not an inevitability of some hopeless ‘brain disease’. This film does a real disservice by failing to represent any of that.
- As an added bonus, it paints women as shrill and helpless sex objects: Jay seems to be angling to get Sirah into bed at the start of the film. By its conclusion, as Sirah is once again helplessly screaming, Jay must come to her rescue not once (when her brother is drowning), but twice (when she’s crying inconsolably and invites him to spend the night as he’d clearly wanted to do right from the start). Sure, she also has a moment (after Deji is rescued from the ocean by Jay) where she slaps and pins her brother to the ground, but that moment is so unbelievable it’s just plain bizarre.
- ‘The Mermaid’ is currently being promoted via the Mental health Channel (MHC), as the winner of the Jury Award in their Film Festival. The individuals responsible for film selection in this category were two white men who do not (at least openly) identify as people with a personal history of psychiatric oppression or diagnosis.
In December, I spoke with Managing Director, Harry Lynch, regarding my concerns about the film (among other elements of MHC), and although he said he heard some of my concerns, he didn’t feel that they could take action to remove the film unless they heard from more than just me that it was problematic.On February 13, after receiving dozens of e-mails complaining about 'The Mermaid', he replied:
"We did receive a few emails about The Mermaid but not enough to consider taking it down."
The Mental Health Channel claims to be 'changing minds' and changing the conversation about mental health, yet it would appear that they are just another entity spouting the same, harmful party lines and ignoring the voice of people who should most be heard: Those who have 'been there' themselves.
Tell them that they need to start listening, and step one is taking down 'The Mermaid'.
You can also reach Harry Lynch at the Mental Health Channel here: firstname.lastname@example.org
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