Photo: ‘Introducing, Selma Blair’
Selma Blair is an accomplished actress known for her roles in cult classics, such as her breakout in the film ‘Cruel Intentions’. She portrays Cecile Caldwell, a naive rich girl who is constantly being manipulated by those around her, and her kiss scene in the film with co-star Sarah Michelle Gellar is one of the most iconic moments in 90’s cinema. She also starred in ‘Legally Blonde’ as Vivian Kensington, protagonist Elle Woods’ initial competition turned friend. Other notable films she participates in including Guillermo del Toro’s ‘Hellboy’ and ‘The Sweetest Thing’. However, Blair’s first starring role will be in October of 2021, with the documentary ‘Introducing, Selma Blair’.
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The 90-minute film is an intimate portrayal of Blair’s struggle with a battle against Multiple Sclerosis and the attempts to slow the progression of the illness. Rachel Fleit, the director, shadows Blair in her journey through aggressive chemotherapy, cell transplant, and isolation in the hospital. Death is a very real threat in this film, and moments such as tearful goodbye to her son before the procedure as well as video diaries from the hospital, let the audience into a very private world. Blair shared her reasoning for participating in such a personal documentary with Vanity Fair, “I had the conviction of thinking I had something to share. You keep opening windows or closing doors and finding tools. I hope my little life gives someone who needs it some hope or a laugh or more awareness of ourselves. I hope the film shows that M.S. varies. That people’s strengths and weaknesses vary. All the emotions of life make healing variable too. For all of us.”
Multiple Sclerosis, A Debilitating Illness
Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy tissue. The malfunction destroys the fatty substance coating the nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord. The fatty substance, myelin, protects the nerves and when it’s damaged the message going through the nerve fiber may be slowed or even blocked. Essentially, these damaged nerve fibers cause miscommunication between the brain and the body, which can result in several potentially disabling side effects, such as losing the ability to walk, epilepsy, paralysis, problems with bladder, bowel, and sexual functions, and many more according to the Mayo Clinic. MS is usually a relapsing-remitting disease, meaning that new symptoms or relapses that develop usually improve at least partially.
Relapses are followed by remission which can last between months and years. However, around 50% of those diagnosed with relapse-remitting MS will eventually start to experience a steady progression of symptoms within 10-20 years of disease onset. This is called secondary-progressive MS. There is also primary-progressive MS, in which patients experience a steady progression of symptoms without any relapses. Symptoms and signs of MS vary between a person and their progression of the disease’s damage on nerves.
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Most common symptoms affect movement, which Mayo describes as, “Numbness or weakness in one or more limbs that typically occurs on one side of your body at a time, or your legs and trunk, electric-shock sensations that occur with certain neck movements, especially bending the neck forward (Lhermitte sign), tremors, lack of coordination or unsteady gait.” It can also affect vision, with the potential risk for partial or complete loss in one or both of the eyes, and pain from eye movement. Other Multiple Sclerosis symptoms include slurred speech, tingling, pain or numbness in the body, dizziness, or fatigue. There is no cure for MS, although treatments can help speed recovery from relapses and help manage symptoms.
It isn’t clear what causes MS, but it’s most likely a combination of environmental factors and genetics. There are several factors however that can increase your risk for developing MS. While the illness can occur at any age, its onset most often happens between 20-40 years of age. Women are two to three times more likely to have relapse-remitting MS. Family history is important; if a parent or sibling has MS then you are at a higher risk of having the illness as well. White people, particularly those of Northern European descent have the highest risk, especially those living in a temperate climate such as Canada, northern United States, New Zealand, and Europe. Certain infections, other autoimmune diseases, smoking, and low levels of vitamin D are also associated with having a higher risk of developing MS.
‘Introducing, Selma Blair’
‘Introducing, Selma Blair’ will premiere on October 15th in select theaters and available for streaming on October 21st on Discovery+. The documentary received positive reviews since its premiere at the SXSW Film Festival in March of 2021, including a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Blair works as an incredible focus on the film; she is funny and personable and keenly self-aware. She acts as a friend to the audience in some moments, joking around and adding humor to a bleak subject matter, and also adds a deep insight in darker moments. Blair begins re-evaluating her relationships and her view on life, as well as the last half-hour showing the beginnings of the Covid Pandemic. “I never really liked life. I do now. I was so scared in life, so to suddenly start to find an identity and safety in me and figure out boundaries and time management and energy, I’m having the time of my life,” said Blair.
The treatment that Blair undergoes is hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT), the several-week-long procedure involves harvesting one’s cells, chemotherapy, and then reinserting cells in the hopes that the immune system will be rebooted. The treatment has a risk of death and is extremely painful, some even speculate that one of the reasons Blair decided to participate is so that her son, Arthur, can see her before her symptoms worsen. Blair has been open about her illness since revealing her diagnosis via Instagram in 2018. In the caption, she writes “I am disabled. I fall sometimes. I drop things. My memory is foggy. And my left side is asking for directions from a broken GPS. But we are doing it. And I laugh and I don’t know exactly what I will do precisely but I will do my best.”
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Her Goal In Educating The Public And Disability Representation
Fleit and Blair’s goal for the film is to bring awareness to both Multiple Sclerosis as well as other chronic illnesses or disabilities. Since the making of the film, Blair has since entered remission which she credits her stem cell transplant. Over the course of the film though, it is her acceptance of her disability as well as her coming to terms with her symptoms that makes it one to see. Blair said to Variety, “People get really upset about with a chronic illness or going through something that looks different; everyone wants to break it down, and a lot of people don’t feel safe. And we’re really getting off these shoulders what they’re going through and it creates a real rigidity and fear and a lot of people, and to hear that even just me showing up with a cane or willing to talk about something that might be embarrassing or oversharing to people, it was a key for a lot of people in finding comfort in themselves that I’ve heard of. And that means everything to me.” Her hopes for the documentary are to normalize stories of disability or chronic illness and to make the world a more inviting place for those to share.
In sharing her own personal battle, Blair attempts to enlighten and inform those who are watching and create new avenues for people to show love and support. The narrative of “staying positive until the end” is not only misleading, but an incredible burden to put on someone who is already struggling. By publicizing her painful and life-altering journey, Blair has become a disability advocate amongst her other accomplishments.
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The vulnerability that Fleit captures creates new means of portraying these types of illnesses, one that is more authentic and honest at capturing what it means to live with a disability. The honesty of the documentary shows the hardships, the bravery, and the painful humanity and can be a tool of change. Blair writes, “I want to play with my son again. I want to walk down the street and ride my horse. I have MS and I am ok. But if you see me, dropping crap all over the street, feel free to help me pick it up. It takes a whole day for me alone. Thank you and may we all know good days amongst the challenges.”
Cast: Selma Blair
Directed: Rachel Fleit | Executive producer: Cass Bird | Producers: Mehrdod Heydari, Mickey Liddell, Troy Nankin, Pete Shilaimon, Beau Ward
Editing: Sloane Klevin
By Kylie Bolter
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