What I hope Daniel Day-Lewis says at the Oscars

Daniel Day Lewis Oscar

Daniel Day Lewis accepts Oscar for Best Actor, 2008

Daniel Day-Lewis is the odds-on favorite to win a historic third Best Actor Oscar. I hope he will say what we thought he would say in 2008, and speak to the billion people watching on the value of his brother-in-law.

Five years ago was the last time Day-Lewis won Best Actor, then for his portrayal of Daniel Plainview, the oil prospector in There Will Be Blood. Vanity Fair had recently published an article about Arthur Miller, the playwright and Day-Lewis’ father-in-law, that caused Down syndrome organizations from around the country to ask Day-Lewis to speak out should he win the Oscar for Best Actor.

The Vanity Fair article was titled “Arthur Miller’s Missing Act.” Day-Lewis is married to Miller’s daughter Rebecca (the writer, actor, and filmmaker) and the article was about her older brother Daniel.

Daniel was born with Down syndrome. Following the standard medical advice at the time, Miller institutionalized his son. Daniel’s mother maintained contact, visiting Daniel, as did Day-Lewis and Rebecca Miller, but it was only towards the end of his life that Arthur visited. When he did, he was astonished at what he saw.

Daniel had grown into a man who had a job, was a self-advocate, and had many friends. Seeing this, Miller said he “would never have dreamed this for my son. If you would have told me when he first started out that he would get to this point, I would never have believed it.”

With the article being published in the Fall prior to Day-Lewis being nominated, many Down syndrome organizations signed onto a letter asking for him to speak out should he win the Oscar on behalf of Daniel and the thousands like him. We asked that Day-Lewis give voice to the wisdom of his father-in-law’s epiphany: that no one can tell how a life will turn out, and, particularly for Down syndrome, life has become ever better since Daniel’s birth. Individuals with Down syndrome are no longer institutionalized; they are living longer, fuller lives; and, opportunities once shut off to them–college, independent living, careers–are now real possibilities.

We circulated this letter and organizations from all over the United States signed onto it. One of the leaders of the Los Angeles organization had ties to the film industry and literally drove around L.A. with a copy of the letter in case she happened to run into an agent, a friend, a contact that could deliver it to Day-Lewis. While we never received confirmation that the letter was received by Day-Lewis, it was delivered so that it could reach him.

And so, on that late February evening, leaders from Down syndrome organizations across the country leaned into their TVs and shushed their families so they could listen when Day-Lewis took the stage to accept his Oscar. After recognizing his wife, Daniel’s sister Rebecca, he paused and said he had been thinking a lot lately about fathers and sons. You could almost sense the collective gasp from all of us who were watching who thought, “He’s actually going to speak out for Daniel.” But, he then paid homage to his father and grandfather and his sons. Perfectly appropriate and very likely Day-Lewis had never seen the letter.

Well, now, half a decade later, there is another opportunity for Day-Lewis to speak out for Daniel, and this time with even greater relevancy for the role for which he has been nominated.

Day-Lewis is nominated for his incredible portrayal of our 16th President (my fellow Kentuckian and lawyer) Abraham Lincoln. If you have not seen the movie, it is worth it just to see Day-Lewis’ performance: the way he uses his voice to have a high-pitch that Lincoln was described as having; the stoop in his shoulders, showing humility and the burdens of a nation resting on them; and, the drawn out way he slams his hand on the desk, evoking why one of Lincoln’s nicknames was “the Railsplitter.” It’s simply remarkable, and, hence, why Day-Lewis has won the Golden Globe and the Screen Actors Guild awards leading up to the Oscar.

The film focuses on the passage of the 13th Amendment. Something, no doubt, most have given little thought to. While the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, it is the 14th Amendment that remains fertile ground for constitutional law challenges over the due process and equal protection clauses it contains. Further, despite being a history and political science double-major, I never appreciated the political risk Lincoln accepted in pushing for the Amendment’s passage through Congress prior to the ending of the Civil War. The film makes a great contribution in making this real drama known to our generation and the generations that follow.

In the film, there is a key scene that struck me as possibly inspiring Day-Lewis to heed our request again, and to speak out for those who have never been mentioned on such a large stage. I reference that scene below.

Here is what I hope Daniel Day-Lewis says on Oscar night when he wins Best Actor and after giving appropriate thanks and recognition:

You know, Lincoln talked of the Euclidian law that things that are equal to the same thing are equal to one another, and how this law is self-evident. While progress still is needed among different races, religions, and sexes in recognizing our common equality, I wanted to specifically mention the continuing struggle to recognize those like my wife’s brother Daniel as equals to all of us.

Daniel has Down syndrome, but that does not define him, though for many it does. It defines him as a burden or as someone incapable of meaningful relationships or accomplishments.

But I know otherwise.

I know Daniel, and I know that he has a meaningful life that uniquely contributes to the world around him.

So, it is my hope that Euclid’s self-evident law will not be undermined by the differences that genetics can find among us all, in one way or another. Because we remain equal to the same thing, our humanity, and therefore equal to one another. And, so, too, is my brother Daniel, and the thousands like him, self-evidently created equal as well. Thank you.

Five years ago, we tried what is now the “old school” way of delivering our message, through paper and personal delivery. I hope that, somehow, this message may find its way in this electronic age to Mr. Day-Lewis. I hope he will read it. And, come February 24, 2013, I will hope that his brother Daniel will have someone who speaks out for his equality to the billion people watching the Oscars.

Comments

  1. Amy Hernandez says:

    Disappointing.

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  1. […] Daniel Day-Lewis did not deliver the message I hoped for, I learned of another connection one of the winners had with Down syndrome, and I had no idea it […]

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