From 1979 to 2020, Boston-based Helping Hands: Monkey Helpers for the Disabled paired monkeys with people with disabilities. The monkeys, often the super-intelligent capuchin species, bonded with their humans and became their helpers.
It’s a Celebration of the Gift of Service Animals
The backdrop to Gigi and Nate is the friction between animal rights groups and advocates for the disabled. The film follows Nate on his journey from a quadriplegic who is suicidal to a man who finds a renewed purpose in life. He’s making stunning strides physically. (His doctor is shocked that he can move his hands.) He’s making progress emotionally, too – smiling and laughing for the first time in months.
Yet this optimistic outlook hits a wall when he takes Gigi to the grocery store and encounters a female customer who wants Gigi booted from the premises. (Gigi, she says, is unsanitary.) That woman just happens to be the head of the (fictional) animal rights group AFAP (Americans For Animal Protection), which subsequently holds a rowdy protest outside Nate’s home. (Signs scream: “service animals are not slaves.”) Soon, AFAP is promoting legislation that would ban capuchin monkeys as service animals.
The film pushes back on this narrative by promoting the benefits of Gigi and other service animals. Such animals assist disabled individuals in daily life. They provide friendship. Often, they also give people a reason to live.
“She gave us the one thing we needed most: hope,” Nate says.
The film is a warmhearted defense of disabled individuals and the service animals that assist them. It’s inspiring to watch.
It’s an Uplifting Tale about Overcoming Tragedy
Gigi and Nate is a tale about the gift of life but also the fragility of life. In the open scenes, we watch as Nate – full of joy and laughter – dives off a cliff into the water below. Minutes later, he’s smiling as he talks to family members at a Fourth of July picnic about his plans for college. Within seconds, though, he’s lying on the bathroom floor, vomiting and unable to stand.
“Please, dear God,” his mom says in a panicked prayer.
Doctors then deliver the tragic news: Nate is suffering from a deadly case of meningitis he caught at the lake. If he survives, he’ll be paralyzed.
Gigi and Nate is also a tale about overcoming tragedy. At the beginning of the film, we watch as family members hold hands and pray – their lives seemingly perfect. At the end of the film, they again hold hands and pray, having walked through a tragedy they never envisioned. Their family is stronger. Nate even enrolls in college. (And, of course, he takes Gigi with him).
I had the opportunity to speak with and interview the director of the film Nick Hamm please watch it here: