Ethics Alarms spends a lot of time and criticism on celebrities and the celebrity culture, so when one finds a way to use fame, even as it is fleeting, constructively attention must be paid. Meet Selma Blair, an always appealing actress previously known for her supporting roles over the past two decades. Blair was diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder multiple sclerosis, which attacks the central nervous system, in August of 2018. She revealed her illness with an Instagram post in October of that year; this in itself was unusual, for revealing an incurable and progressive disease is usually career suicide. Most Hollywood actors hide maladies from bi-polar depression and alcoholism to cancer for as long as they can.
Not Blair. As a former impish ingenue now in her forties, her career was already on the wain, and she felt that publicizing her struggles could help the many people who not only suffer from MS but other chronic diseases. Blair continued to track the course of her illness on Instagram. She attended Hollywood events with a jeweled cane. She did not avoid interview, allowing the public to witness her periodic difficulties speaking and impaired movement. “She was in turn glamorous and clumsy, funny and mournful,” writes Teo Bugby in the Times. (Ethics Alarms saluted her courage here.)
The next step for Blair is a feature-length documentary. “Introducing Selma Blair” begins in 2019, and under the direction of Rachel Fleit, follows Blair for a year as the actress tries to adapt to her illness and plans for life with a disability. Blair has explained that she wanted the film to serve as support for audiences who feel challenged and uncertain, not only those with chronic illnesses. “This is my human condition,” she told interviewer Dave Itskoff, “and everyone has their own, but I think we are united in feeling alone or frightened when we have a big change in our lives. This wasn’t a vanity project at all, and I’m very capable of loving vanity.” Remarkably, Blair exercised no editorial control over the film, believing that it would only succeed, director Fleit has explained, if its subject “was willing to show the world what really happened — that brutal intimacy and honesty that you just don’t see.”
Cynthia Zagieboylo, the president and chief executive of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, says that Blair’s openness will be beneficial to both people who have the disease and those who want to know more about it. When a celebrity like Blair is open about her illness, someone percieved as blessed with beauty, fame and wealth, she says, “people can feel less alone in facing the challenges of their own M.S. People experiencing potential symptoms might recognize something. It could lead to an earlier confirmed diagnosis of M.S., which means people could get treated faster and that leads to better outcomes.” As for Blair, being known as “the actress with M.S.” has had its predictable effect. “The parts that I’m offered since I’ve had my diagnosis are the old woman, the person in the wheelchair, the person bumping into walls,” Blair told Itzkoff. “I might be those things, but I’m still everything else I was before, and I shouldn’t be relegated to that.”
The Coulouris side of my family (my dad had no living relatives while I was growing up) has auto-immune disease curse. I was one of the lucky ones: my malady is gout, which once I found a rheumatologist who had escaped the 18th century, was easily controlled. (Before that, I was periodically crippled for days to weeks multiple times over a typical year.) The unlucky ones in my extended family suffered (or still suffer) from rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, myasthenia gravis, and, yes, multiple sclerosis. My mother was very close to a cousin with the disease, and we visited her and her family often. Nobody ever explained to me what it was exactly that had her in a wheelchair. What most impressed me about “Chicky” was that she was always upbeat and outgoing, and also very beautiful.
I wish Blair’s documentary had been available while she was alive.