Disability in Mad Max: Fury Road

By Jorain Ng

When I first saw the movie poster for Mad Max: Fury Road in May, I didn’t have high hopes for the show. I thought it was just going to be another stereotypical movie about a disabled superhero saving the day. I could not be more wrong. Fury Road is one of the best action movies I’ve ever seen!

There are many characters with disabilities in this movie including the female protagonist, the main antagonist, the antagonist’s sons, just to name a few.

Imperator Furiosa holding a shotgun.

Imperator Furiosa holding a shotgun. [ Image taken from http://bulletsareextinct.tumblr.com ]

But my favorite character is the female protagonist called Imperator Furiosa. Furiosa has a physical disability, a left arm defect to be more precise. She wears a steampunk-looking prosthetic (one that actually looks realistic and usable by amputees) to help her perform her daily tasks.

Yet you barely notice her disability. Whether she’s driving a huge truck, reloading her gun or shooting enemies, her prosthetic arm is presented as a natural extension of her body. It’s there, we can see it. And it’s no big deal.

Her disability is also never a plot device. There is no tragic backstory regarding her disability, and her character is not used to inspire or motivate audience. In fact, her disability is never explained. We do not even know how or when she acquired her disability. The movie doesn’t want us to focus on her disability. They treat her disability as just another kind of difference – something I find really refreshing.

There is one particular scene that epitomises everything I love about the movie and the effortless manner it portrays disability. I have shared the movie clip from youtube below.

In this scene, Furiosa and her ally, Max, are fighting off their enemies who are attacking their ride. Furiosa reloads her shotgun and shoots at her enemies. When their ride catches fire, Furiosa quickly lowers the plow at the front of the truck which digs up sand, extinguishing the flames. When Furiosa noticed that more enemies are pursuing them, she opens the flap at the top of the truck and positions herself there to have a better shooting range. Max reloads her shotgun and passes it back to Furiosa who then proceeds to attack her enemies again.

These film sequences are done beautifully and realistically. Her prosthetic arm does not transform into a weapon – as you would expect from a disabled hero in action movies. It is simply portrayed as an assistive device that enables her to do things. And her allies like Max do not see her as a liability or feel sorry for her physical disability. They treat her as an equal.

I have watched many great action movies but this one takes the cake. I doubt the filmmakers ever read the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities or even know about the social model of disability. But they’ve inadvertently done a great job in showing others how to have a more accurate representation of persons with disabilities.

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