The lack of diversity in the heroes and heroines shown in entertainment for kids has long been an easy target for critics. Disney’s first ever black princess made her debut just four years ago, whereas the 2012 animated film Brave was Pixar’s first to feature a female lead. While kids who aren’t white males have to look harder to find characters who look like them, it’s even more difficult for children with physical disabilities.
In Slovenia, a recent online project attempts to subvert the norms of child heroes by inserting a boy with physical impairments into his own magical narrative. A photo-shoot by Slovenian psychiatrist and photographer Matej Peljhan recasts a 12-year-old child, Luka, with muscular dystrophy as the star of his own adventure, modeled after the classic French book, The Little Prince.
According to Peljhan, who works at a school attended by Luka, "Some time ago, during one of our conversations, he expressed his wish to see himself on a photo, walking around and doing all sorts of mischief." In the resulting photos, Luka, who’s only able to wiggle his fingers enough to control a wheelchair, is seen playing basketball, skateboarding, and swimming, using sets to inset his head atop a staged body in motion.
Peljhan writes that Luka "wants neither pity nor empathy but wants to stay positive and focused on the things in his life he can still do. He approaches all other activities he is--due to his handicapped body--unable to perform, in his own, witty way.”
In a way, the project distills the magic of digital editing and the ability to create alternate personas on the Internet. Cyberspace is the place where fantasy dominates, where new lives are imagined. In Peljhan’s words: “Sometimes with the help of his imagination and virtual worlds … [Luka’s] creativity dashes to the sky and makes him forget his physical limitations and bonds." It’s an inspiring message for kids who look different that they too can be heroes of their own tales.