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Netflix's Rising Phoenix tells the inspiring story of the Paralympic Games, while challenging how we see disabled people

Rising Phoenix isn't about feeling "sorry" for disabled people, but about celebrating them for their strengths, says Grace Henry.

Rising Phoenix
Published: Friday, 21st August 2020 at 3:00 pm

Deeply moving, inspiring and undeniably entertaining, Netflix's new documentary Rising Phoenix is set to land soon on the streaming platform.


Directed by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui (McQueen) and produced by John Battsek of Searching For Sugar Man, and Whitney, it tells the story of the Paralympic Games from the history of the movement, and the incredible stories of the amazing athletes.

The film starts by introducing us to some of the greatest Paralympians, starting off with Italian fencer Bebe Vio, whose drive and passion is evident from the moment she appears on screen.

With the nickname Rising Phoenix, it almost feels as though the documentary is named after Vio - who had her arms and legs amputated due to meningitis.

However, the title rings true for all of the athletes featured in the film, who have battled through their disabilities and come out the other end shining.

From french runner, Jean-Baptiste Aliaze, who lost his leg in an attack when fleeing the civil war in Burundi, to English sprinted Jonnie Peacock who contracted meningitis at age five and had to have his leg amputated (and got pretty far on Strictly Come Dancing), each star has a very different story to tell.

They will touch you in different ways, too, with some being stories of pain, war, and trauma, and others more about the sport with Peacock in particular preferring not to focus on his talent rather than his disability.

Too often disabled people are painted with one brush, however, Rising Phoenix helps to change the perception of disabled people, and therefore highlights the importance of The Games.

It's not about "feeling sorry" for disabled people as Peacock continuously points out, but about recognising their "superhuman" strengths like archer Matt Stutzman explains.

Rising Phoenix
Jonnie Peacock Netflix

Going from the rubble of World War II to the third biggest sporting event on the planet, the Paralympics sparked a global movement which continues to change the way the world thinks about disability, diversity and human potential.

So, it will come as a huge disappointment to viewers, to see how easily Paralympians are let down as the film progresses.

Back in 2018, it was thought that the Rio Paralympics wouldn't be able to go ahead due to a lack of funds. This was a devastating time for many Paralympians who had worked so hard to get to this day, only for their dreams to be crushed. Nevertheless, they continued to train and remained hopeful that it would go ahead despite all the challenges and limitations.

The film shows how they managed to get the games back on track, with organisations going to the government and seeking funding. It's this dedication and faith that will really move viewers. In the face of adversity, we have these incredibly, talented Paralympians pushing through.

And it does pay off, although never without struggle - something that will leave many battling with their emotions throughout the film.

Rising Phoenix
Matt Stutzman Netflix

Viewers can't help but feel gratitude and relief to hear the Paralympic Games went ahead in 2018 after securing funding, however, but this happiness is soon overshadowed when it's revealed very few tickets sold and the athletes were met with an almost empty stadium.

The lack of consideration and effort that appears to be put into the Paralympic Games as opposed to the other sports becomes evident - and it will anger you.

Nevertheless, we see real courage and fight emerge from the darker moments of the documentary.

In one scene, we're shown Boccia players overcoming challenges. Due to the athletes' severe disabilities, the planning committee wondered if they should ask the crowd to lower their tone at the Rio Paralympics.

However, this turned out to be just what the players needed, having never been celebrated in such a way before.

"We're loving it, that's what we always wanted in our life," one says in the film.

Rising Phoenix
Ntando Mahlangu Netflix

The Paralympics isn't just entertaining for viewers, but it changes the lives of the people who compete in it.

And you can see this so clearly in the film, with the many powerful scenes, such as when Bebe Vio won at the Rio Paralympics, despite being injured mid-game.

As Prince Harry states in the documentary, disabled people need to be involved "at large in society", and Rising Phoenix reminds us of this.

It challenges our perceptions of the disabled, while also pushing us to believe in ourselves, because like Vio puts so well towards the end of the film, we can all "do whatever you want"!


Rising Phoenix launches globally on Netflix on 26th August. check out our lists of the best series on Netflix and the best movies on Netflix, or see what else is on with our TV Guide.


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