Fighting False Assumptions About People With Down Syndrome

A great central performance carries the day

What assumptions do you make about people with Down syndrome? That they can't order alcohol or enjoy a night on the town? That they shouldn't live independently? That they can't learn boxing or appreciate Shakespeare?

Well, meet Madison. This 22-year-old member of the Down community delivers a powerful message in the spot below: Change your way of thinking. Assume that they CAN!

The work breaks today from Italian nonprofit CoorDown, developed with creative agency Small, Indiana Production and director Rich Lee.

By helping folks with Down syndrome grow and experience life, we help them reach their full potential. Otherwise, they're doomed to sheltered half-lives ... and a genetic condition won't be to blame.

"Our negative assumptions about people with Down syndrome can shape our behavior towards them, thus reinforcing these stereotypes," Small co-founder and ECD Luca Lorenzini tells Muse. "Through this initiative, we aim to shift the paradigm. We wanted to diverge from the typical sombre tone of PSAs. Our approach involved crafting a film infused with energy, thanks to a dynamic blend of acting, editing and music."

Small and CoorDown have collaborated for a dozen years, crafting accessible, category-defining work that includes, most notably this 2021 video with an original song from Sting. 

"Through different campaigns about different topics, we've been trying to dismantle prejudices about people with Down syndrome," Lorenzini says. "Some of our campaigns have had exceptional results."

After the Sting campaign, which dealt with Down syndrome and the labor market, 900 companies applied for a program matching employers with community members. Last year's "Ridiculous Excuses Not to Be Inclusive" push generated 60 million views in 10 days.

Lee lenses the new work, "Assume That I Can," with a light yet insistent touch that feels in sync with the material. But the spot wouldn't work without a knockout performance from Madison, who exudes determination plus a sharp sense of irony and comic timing.

Lorenzini praises her as "probably the most talented actress with Down syndrome we have worked with in all the years. Funny, energetic, versatile and extremely talented."

"Do you want to know how she manages to be so intense when addressing the camera in an open space? During that scene, she decided to take off her shoes to feel more comfortable and perform better. All actors have their tricks."

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