Unforgotten: Twenty-Five Years After Willowbrook

Watch Unforgotten: Twenty-Five Years After Willowbrook

  • NR
  • 1997
  • 58 min
  • 6.5  (209)

Unforgotten: Twenty-Five Years After Willowbrook is a powerful and emotional documentary film that sheds light on one of the most appalling cases of neglect and abuse of disabled people in American history. The film explores the notorious Willowbrook State School, a Staten Island institution for intellectually disabled children that was established in the 1940s and was the subject of scandalous revelations in the 1970s. The film is directed by Lucy Massie Phenix and narrated by Danny Aiello, with appearances by Geraldo Rivera and Maria Caceres, among others.

The film opens with a haunting montage of black-and-white footage of the Willowbrook campus, accompanied by eerie music and occasional voiceovers by former residents and staff. The images of neglected and emaciated children, lying in filthy and overcrowded rooms, are shocking and heartbreaking. The voiceovers of confused and frightened children, asking for their parents or basic needs, are harrowing. The film then shifts to the present, where a group of former residents and their families, as well as activists and experts, are gathered to reflect on the legacy of Willowbrook and the challenges of caring for disabled people in a society that often neglects and marginalizes them.

The participants in the film include many brave and inspirational individuals who survived Willowbrook and fought for justice and reform. Some of them are now adults with families and careers, while others still struggle with physical and mental disabilities. They share their memories and feelings about their time in Willowbrook, as well as their struggles to adjust to the outside world and cope with the trauma they endured. Many of them express anger, sadness, and frustration at the lack of accountability and compensation from the government and the school administration, as well as the stigma and discrimination they face from society at large.

The film also features interviews with former staff members, journalists, and experts who shed light on the systemic and cultural factors that enabled Willowbrook to exist and thrive for so long. They discuss the eugenic and custodial ideologies that dominated disability services in the mid-twentieth century, as well as the political and economic pressures that influenced the funding and oversight of such institutions. They also examine the role of the media in exposing the horrors of Willowbrook, particularly the groundbreaking TV report by Geraldo Rivera in 1972 that shocked the nation and led to reforms.

Throughout the film, there are many poignant and illuminating moments that capture the resilience, creativity, and humor of the disabled community. We see former Willowbrook residents performing music, dance, and theater, as well as engaging in activism and advocacy. We also see them interacting with their families, friends, and allies, and sharing their dreams, fears, and hopes for the future. Some of the most powerful moments are the personal testimonials of the survivors, who speak directly to the camera and confront the audience with their raw emotions and piercing insights.

Unforgotten: Twenty-Five Years After Willowbrook is a timely and necessary film that raises crucial questions about the value and dignity of human life, the role of government and society in protecting vulnerable populations, and the ongoing struggles of disabled people to achieve empowerment and equality. The film is not only a tribute to the survivors of Willowbrook and their families, but also a call to action for all people who care about justice and human rights. It is a film that demands to be seen and heard by everyone, regardless of their background or beliefs.

Unforgotten: Twenty-Five Years After Willowbrook is a 1997 documentary with a runtime of 58 minutes. It has received mostly positive reviews from critics and viewers, who have given it an IMDb score of 6.5.

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  • Release Date
  • MPAA Rating
  • Runtime
    58 min
  • Language
  • IMDB Rating
    6.5  (209)