Film Fact Friday presents: “Million Dollar Baby”

Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby (2004) mainly follows the relationship between Maggie Fitzgerald (Hillary Swank) and her trainer Frankie Dunn (Clint Eastwood). Fitzgerald wishes to become a professional boxer, hanging around Dunn’s gym. After finally convincing Dunn to train her, she progresses and moves up the ranks. Both Fitzgerald and Dunn seem to comfort each other, with Fitzgerald coming from a poor and selfish family and Dunn being estranged from his daughter. Fitzgerald’s success is cut short when she becomes a quadriplegic after taking a cheap shot by her opponent in a championship fight. After Fitzgerald pleads with him to do so, Dunn assists her in dying by disconnecting her ventilator and injecting her with a shot of adrenaline.

This week’s Fun Fact:

On the one hand, this film is considered a financial and critical “success” due to grossing $216 million worldwide after having a $30 million budget and winning multiple awards (“Million Dollar Baby”). On the other hand, the film drew the ire of disability rights activists and Disability Studies scholars. One of the most prominent organizations that played a role in the protests surrounding the film was Not Dead Yet, “a national, grassroots disability rights group that opposes legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia as deadly forms of discrimination against old, ill and disabled people” (“Who”). Some of the complaints surrounding the movie included the points that “the portrayal of rehabilitation and consequences of spinal cord injury were unrealistic” and “the fact that Maggie had the right to have her vent turned off was ignored” in the film (“Answering”). Aside from making these points and others, there was also a protest at an event hosted by the Chicago Film Critics Association in January 2005, which received a good deal of media attention. Unfortunately, some of this work surrounding a disability perspective was pushed out of the spotlight by larger forces in the media (“Answering”).

The film Million Dollar Baby is always a tough one for me. I was a junior in college when it was in theaters. The film itself was not on my radar. However, I do remember the court case revolving around Terri Schiavo and the intense activism that existed on both sides of the issue. I also recall people bringing up the film. For some reason, I was just staying away from it.

When I was working on a project surrounding the film a few years later, I came to really appreciate the impact of everything that was going on at that time. By that point, I had completely forgotten about how the Schiavo case had overlapped with the movie itself, recognizing what an intense time this was, especially for disability rights activists. Looking back at it, I see it as a very important point of development in my own disability activism, even if I did keep my distance at that point. I continue to see how such efforts surrounding disability awareness continue to this day, going beyond any film.

– Jonathan Bartholomy, RAFF Chicago Planning Committee Member

RAFF Chicago runs from October 4-8, 2017. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook!!!

If you would like to get involved with RAFF Chicago please contact us at (773) 203-5039 or email Matt Lauterbach at

Works Cited

Drake, Stephen. “Answering Some of Roger Ebert’s (and Kevorkian’s) Fans.” notdeadyet,

Accessed 2 August 2017.

“Million Dollar Baby.” boxofficemojo, Accessed

2 August 2017.
“Who We Are.” notdeadyet, Accessed 2 August 2017.

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