We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
There’s a fine line between a promotional video about an organization and a documentary film centers on one. Defining Beauty closely straddles that line in its depiction of five competitors in the 2010 Ms. Wheelchair America competition. What is otherwise an unflinching look at how these women challenge stereotypes of sex, femininity, strength, beauty, and ability is marred only by spots of narration with the tonal shading of a nonprofit promo. “Can a woman in a wheelchair be just as beautiful?” asks the narrator, actress Katey Sagal, at the very beginning, giving the audience very little agency to explore these questions themselves. Luckily, the voiceover gives way to a compassionate look at life as a disabled woman, from a glimpse at the uncomfortable reality of having to catheterize oneself to questions of sex and dating. It’s worth the patience spent.