Selma Blair isn’t a major star, but she had style and a steady stare that served her well in films like the 1999 “Cruel Intentions” and as Liz Sherman in the 2004 “Hellboy” and the 2008 “Hellboy II: The Golden Army.” You might not remember her, but her gutsy honesty in Rachel Fleit’s documentary, “Introducing, Selma Blair,” gives us a vulnerable reality star struggling against the mysterious and incurable multiple sclerosis.
I’m intimately acquainted with this devastating illness, but under Fleit’s sensitive direction and Shane Sigler’s intimate lensing, I became aware of the claustrophobic narrowness of my childhood memories.
My father never took us on vacation except as a prelude to his disability and eventual death. Multiple sclerosis robbed him of his active lifestyle of fishing and hunting, his artistry and neat penmanship and his ability to speak, keeping him imprisoned in his body until his death of pneumonia during my last year in middle school.
I don’t know when he first felt its effects. I first recall the San Diego police officers pulling us overThey gave him a sobriety check and he was able to take us home. My mother commented on how he was lucky. We were all lucky that he wasn’t arrested, but my mother also mentioned that his customers weren’t always so generous. His sometimes unsteady gait was interpreted as inebriation. Eventually, he would progress from a wooden cane to a walker to a wheelchair until finally he was confined to a rest home bed.
Before that my parents grasped for hope, paying large amounts of money to a doctor in Anaheim who was later arrested and sentenced for fraudulent medical treatments.
The doctors didn’t immediately know what was wrong with my father. Blair says that the doctors didn’t initially take her pain seriously and her illness went undiagnosed for years despite dizziness, numbness and problems speaking. My father must have had something, some unexplained problem that gradually became so bad it could no longer be ignored.
Fleit shows Blair as a mother and as a woman. We see how she tackles everything from her makeup to motherhood, from swimming to climbing stairs and even how she handles speaking when her illness causes her neurological connections into a chaotic misfirings. Blair lets her “crazy flag fly.”
My father didn’t have to worry about looks, but Hollywood is all about appearances. Fleit introduces us to Blair as she attempts to be glamorous, think old Hollywood Norma Desmond style. Blair says, “God, girl could use some makeup.” Apply her own make-up, she is self-deprecating, acknowledging that makeup artists and YouTube artists might find her methodology laughable.
Blair also shows us the small plastic hands that had a few people saying, “I was accused of culturally appropriating disabled people.” In reality, Blair is disabled. Blair has her own emotional support dog. We see how she deals with her own anxieties and disability. MS is tricky and each case is different. There isn’t a standard or predictable trajectory. There are good days and bad days. Blair had a bad moment during one of her more well-documented good days when she returned to the red carpet, with a cane and a gorgeous gown.
The photographers found their heart and for a moment, one beautiful moment, we saw kindness and a kind of grace. This is the courageous moment of grace and glamor that I feel we should always remember Blair for.
Prior to Blair, celebrities affected by multiple sclerosis included Richard Pryor (December 1, 1940 – December 10, 2005) who was diagnosed in 1986, but died from his third heart attack; and actress Annette Funicello (October 22, 1942 – April 8, 2013) who was diagnosed with MS in 1987 and died from complications on 8 April 2013.
Blair says, “I hope now I’m just going to be a better person” as she tries to “figure out how to be alive by being half-dead.”
“Introducing, Selma Blair” had its world premiere at SXSW Online 2021 and receive an award.
Special Jury Recognition for Exceptional Intimacy in Storytelling: Introducing, Selma Blair
Director: Rachel Fleit
The jury wrote:
Selma Blair’s unflinching and raw vulnerability in Introducing, Selma Blair, coupled with director Rachel Fleit’s almost voyeuristic chronicling of her MS diagnosis, invites us not just to feel empathy for the star. More than that, it invites us into her fight, prompting anyone watching to feel joined with her in battle. That level of disarming intimacy is rarely witnessed on screen, particularly from a public figure, making the feat all the more incredible.