What are some of the prejudices and stereotyping that take place in the movie I am Sam?

I am Sam is intended to challenge prejudice against people with disabilities. However, many critics felt that the film perpetuated stereotypes, not only about the protagonist, who has learning difficulties, but with regard to other characters, such as the busy career woman who neglects her son.

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This question can be answered on at least two levels; from the perspective of the filmmakers, who were attempting to challenge stereotypes about disability and mental illness, and from the viewpoint of the many critics who felt that they failed.

The protagonist and title character of I am Sam is a man with a learning disability who struggles to retain custody of his daughter. The principal prejudice shown by other characters in the film is that a man with Sam's disability must be an unfit father. This stereotype is challenged primarily by Sam's daughter, Lucy, but also by other adults who come to understand and respect Sam.

However, critics of the film have argued that it perpetuates more stereotypes than it challenges. The lawyer who takes on Sam's case is a lazy stereotype, reinforcing common prejudices against women who pursue demanding careers. This lawyer, Rita, neglects her own son, and is portrayed as an unfit parent because she is completely absorbed in her work. Sam himself is an unconvincing character who displays several of the stereotypes associated with mental illness, such as childlike simplicity combined with occasional flashes of wisdom. The film also shows a strong prejudice against the social services and the public prosecutor, who appear to be motivated by malevolence, despite the fact that, as Roger Ebert pointed out in the Chicago Sun-Times, their case makes a lot of sense.

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