HOLLYWOOD (Christian Examiner) -- One of my best friends of all time has what the world would call a "disability." He has Down syndrome, and if statistics are correct, then a large number of babies in the womb diagnosed with his condition never make it to full term. They're aborted.
That's tragic, yes, but also incredibly sad.
If only those moms had met my friend, perhaps they would have made a different decision. He is 28 and healthy, and while he may be slower than you or me in a few areas, he surpasses all of us with a bigger heart, a warmer personality and an incredible smile. He has lots of interests: texting friends (yes, he can read and write), music (he knows nearly every Christian song on YouTube), playing the Wii (he can beat me in most any game), and swimming (he whips me in that, too).
Meeting him changed my perspective on life – and I'm sure I'm not the only one who can say that.
I thought about my friend when I watched a screener for the upcoming movie, "Where Hope Grows" (Godspeed Pictures), and interviewing its leading chacter. The movie hits theaters Friday (May 15) and tells the heartwarming story of a man with Down syndrome whose positive outlook on life changes everyone around him, including a former professional baseball player who is down and out after being sent to early retirement.
It's an inspiring movie that could transform our society's views of people with Down syndrome. That's because the star of the movie -- David DeSanctis – isn't simply an actor who was hired to pretend he has Down syndrome. DeSanctis has Down syndrome, and he is shattering every stereotype that exists about people born with his "disability."
DeSanctis plays "Produce," an enthusiastic grocery clerk who has two personal goals at his job: 1) encourage everyone he meets, and, 2) win employee of the month. Sadly, though, he gets passed over each month for the honor ... but he still maintains a solid attitude.
I laughed and cried while watching the movie and walked away uplifted – much like I do each time I talk to my friend.
The crew chose DeSanctis for the role not knowing if he could read the lines, but he proceeded not only to read them but quickly to memorize all 300 of them. And he delivered them as well as any actor I've seen on the screen. He's truly talented.
It was his first acting role, Director Chris Dowling said of the young man.
DeSanctis told Christian Examiner that he "was extremely excited and pumped" when he got the role and that by the end of the film shoot, he and the other cast and crew members were "like a family."
"It was tiring," he said during a phone interview, referencing the 12-hour work days. "One thing I had to learn was patience."
But he doesn't regret it. In fact, he wants to act again in other movies. DeSanctis said he wants the movie to change how people view those with Down syndrome.
"I want them to look at my abilities instead of my disabilities," he said.
"David is a 22-year-old guy who takes karate lessons and likes to talk about things that 22-year-old guys talk about – girls, sports," Dowling said. "We put limitations on people with Down syndrome, but we often don't personally know anyone who has Down syndrome. We have stereotypes."
Dowling, the cast and crew took what is called the "r-word pledge" – that is, a pledge not to say the word "retarded," which is rightfully considered a slur. The movie ends with a challenge for the audience to take the pledge.
"I truly think we have the opportunity to change how people look at those with special needs," Dowling said. "We've seen it in the audiences we've screened it with. It's been humbling and overwhelming."
"Where Hope Grows" is rated PG-13 for thematic issues involving drinking and teen sexuality, and for brief language, and an accident scene. I counted two curse words, neither involving God's name. The movie contains a scene involving a sexual assault at a public venue, although nothing explicit is seen.
Entertainment rating: 4 out of 5 stars. Family friendly rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
Michael Foust has covered the faith film industry for a decade and has been a full-time editor and writer for 20 years. He blogs at MichaelFoust.com