‘We Don’t Just Need Happy Stories’

Stories allow us to witness, experience and have conversations. How can they help reframe our discussions of illness and marginalized people?

 |  Transcript [PDF]

Filmmaker and writer Marlene Goldman is interested in stories about illness. When she writes stories, she imagines new narratives for her characters, challenging how we define what is pathological and framing marginalized people in a different light.

“I do think if community is fragmenting because of COVID, then our shared stories historically have always pulled us together. We need stories. And we don’t just need happy stories, and we don’t need stories we agree on,” says Goldman, professor of English at the University of Toronto Scarborough and Graduate English at the University of Toronto.

“We can come around stories in the way that, you know, people came and watched classical Greek tragedy, and it would be a moment of debate. ‘What, you like this character?’ So theatre was literally called a witnessing place. We witness, we experience, and we have conversations about stories, and I think we’re wiser for it.”

Goldman believes that film can be a powerful medium to make case studies more accessible for clinicians, caregivers, and patients. Illness can come with stigma and a broad array of unique challenges. Translating health research through the lens of storytelling can boost empathy and transform our perspective around health.

“Sometimes when we think about health, we think about pills and doctor’s appointments, and we don’t necessarily realize that health is inter-subjective. It’s about our social relationships,” adds Goldman.

“We know more about music and the importance of music for brain functioning. We know that speaking languages will preserve our neural networks more than any pills will, and I think we’re working with one hand tied behind our back if we are just looking at health from a biomedical perspective. I want to have two hands.”

Just a few of the topics Goldman has worked on recently include disability and dementia. Conditions like these can come with stigma that results in a strong sense of shame. This is a burden that can affect mental health and healing while contributing to the discrimination that makes it hard for people to seek and receive care.

“I want to do our best to support everyone at every stage of the life course, and to me art is essential to that,” says Goldman. “I want to find stories with fascinating voices coming from unfamiliar perspectives. I want to celebrate new kinds of heroes and bring them to life.”

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