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I am Sam






I am Sam (2001) is a movie that presents a social discourse and cultural disability

disclosure. The movie is based on a mentally challenged father (Sam) who is determined to have

custody of his daughter (Lucy). The movie has been recognized for a long time as suitable

representation of mental disabilities in parenthood. Through various cultural models, Sam has

been used to represent various views. In this movie, he fits as a disabled person, within social

paradigms. Through the Movie, a cultural model is suitable in the evaluation of traditional

acuities of disabilities.


Sam is a single father with a developmental disability. His wife abandoned him and his

daughter Lucy. This brought about many limitations despite his well adjustment. His well

adjustment earned him friends who were able to help him take care of Lucy. Annie is one of such

people who helped in caring for Lucy. Despite the care and love that Sam extends to Lucy, she

faces challenges of being teased at school for having a father with mental retardation. She takes

home all the embarrassment and never believes that she is more rationally forward thinking than

her father.

Sam is eventually separated from Lucy by a social worker who showed up in Lucy’s

birthday. She only allowed Sam to see Lucy two times a week. Sam gets a lawyer, Rita, who

decides to help him. In the process, Sam becomes instrumental in solving Rita’s marital problems

and the relationship she had with her son. Sam loses the case because he could not take care of

his daughter, according to the judge. Lucy settles in a foster home where she continually attempts

to run away from with no success. Lucy is later returned home to her father and plans are made

to have a member of the foster family, Randy, take care of her.


Throughout this movie, the plot displays themes of social aversion and glorification

deliberately. In the past, the movie has received mixed reactions and critics have failed to take

sides. In terms of its thematic exposition, the movie has brought out the themes clearly. People

with disability are perceived negatively in society. This is because they are seen to be a bother to

society. They are also viewed as heroes who overcome obstacles.

Themes and Ideas

Disability studies have proposed models that analyze the reactions that society exhibits to

disability. Medical and social models can be distinguished from the way they define the

disturbance and how society reacts to them. Based on the medical model, the disability is

perceived from the cause. This means that the physiological cause of the disability makes it

become a disease rather than a disorder (Taylor & Francis 2009).

With regard to the social model, glorification of disabled people is a representation of

cultural views. This perspective is actually the traditional understanding of disability. This can be

seen when Sam keeps off from the society when he is denied custody of his daughter. This can be

seen in the part of the movie transcribed below:

Sam: There is no room here. Because I make things hard on everyone

Rita: You have to let me in, please.

Sam: But Lucy doesn’t need me anymore…

Sam literally calls himself an outcast because he believes he is a trouble maker who

brings problems to others in society. He believes that he adds little value to society. His

usefulness could be portrayed if he became Lucy’s care giver and father, but this dream is

shattered when she is handed over to a foster family. However, Sam bases his character in both

negative and positive constructs (Wilson, 2001).


I am Sam presents concrete ideologies about disability. The way the society views Sam is

actually the way Sam views himself, in some instances. His esteem reveals that, despite his

disability, he can make judgements about what is right and wrong. He has a sound mind and can

actually deduce his needs. His decision to see a lawyer to help in fighting custody of his daughter

is a clear indication that his rational dimension of thought was straight. The movie, therefore,

succeeds in presenting the various ways people with disability reason, and how they perceive


In terms of social perspectives, I am Sam does not present a solid impression of how

people with disability should be treated in society. Being disabled, according to Taylor &

Francis (2009), calls for social support and motivation. Sam’s daughter was taken away from him

because of the thought that he could not take care of her. However, the reverse happens when he

finally wins custody and his daughter given back to him.


Issues in this movie have been brought out through the two models mentioned earlier.

These include the social model and the medical model (Riley, 2005). The social model,

overcomes the medical model in this movie. Rita wins the case in the end and ensures Sam has

his daughter in his custody. Symbolism has been used in the movie to show how events unfold

but the main theme of disability; a social acceptance and conflict resolution are articulated well.

Production components of the movie have been used to draw attention to various issues

raised by the two models proposed. Sam’s disability has been transformed into an opportunity for

compensation. This then turns out to be a story of transformation from disability to ability.


Nelson, J. (Director). 2001. I am Sam [Motion picture]. United States: New Line

Productions, Inc.

Riley, C. 2005. Disability and the media: Prescriptions for change. Hanover, NH: University

Press of New England.

Wilson, J. and Lewiecki-Wilson, C. (2001). Disability, rhetoric, and the body. In Wilson, J. and

Lewiecki-Wilson, C. (Ed.) Embodied rhetorics: Disability in language and culture.

Taylor, & Francis. (2009). Tensions, perspectives and themes in disability studies. Scandinavian

Journal of Disability Research. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.