I brought a special guest with me to the screening of Miss You Can Do It, the new HBO documentary about a beauty pageant for girls and young women with disabilities. It airs tonight at 9 PM ET. The lovely Easter Seals people invited us (they service several girls in the movie), and I felt even more excited for my guest to see the movie than I was.
That's because my guest was Sabrina. I wanted her to see the girls in action—girls with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism and other special needs—and the celebration of their abilities.
Abbey Curran, a former Miss Universe Miss Iowa who has cerebral palsy, started the pageant a decade ago to help girls live their dreams—and see the possibilities for their future. As one mom says, "It's a great way to show that everybody has potential, everybody has gifts." The film follows several girls' stories, including Ali's (above, a total scene stealer) and a couple of families who had two children with special needs in the pageant.
At the start of the film, Abbey says "Accomplishment starts with two words: 'I'll try.'" And the empowerment and encouragement just builds up from there. During an interview with the judges, when a shy contestant hid behind her fingers, the judges covered their own faces with their hands and spoke with her that way to make her more comfortable. Abbey hoped that the girls would draw inspiration from each other, too. As she noted at one point, if a child saw another tying her shoes, perhaps she'd think she could also do that.
The girls' excitement leapt off the screen; so did the parents' joy and pride. As mesmerized as I was, I kept glancing at Sabrina; she was just as drawn in. Later, I did a little interview with her to see what she'd absorbed.
So, what did you like about the movie?
The funny little girl named Ali. Do you remember when she said "Did Mommy tell you when I called 911? It's a secret."
What did you think of Abbey?
She was very nice. What does she have?
She has cerebral palsy, like Max does.
But she can talk!
Max can talk, he just talks in his own way. Cerebral palsy affects everyone differently, it depends which part of your brain got hurt. Why do you think Abbey started this pageant?
Because she has disabilities, and because she cares about kids who have disabilities. She wants them to have fun and to have a great time and an awesome life.
Did you see kids like Max in the movie?
Yes, they have the same thing, cerebral palsy. Some of them walked differently, some had trouble talking. Like that girl who read the essay about how she wished people could see her.
What does the movie tell you about kids with disabilities?
That they can do everything! And Max could be in a beauty pageant!
Then I told Sabrina that my friend Janette used to enter beauty pageants when we were in college, and that she got to be in The Miss America pageant.
"Oh, she has special needs?" Sabrina asked.
Image: Screen grab/HBO trailer