What Does Daruma Mean And When Did You Start Writing It by Kelli McNeil

Film Courage: What does the word D-A-R-U-M-A mean and when did you start writing it?

Kelli McNeil, Writer, Actress and Voice Over ArtistI actually started to write DARUMA after a member of my own family suffered a spinal chord injury. They had a motorcycle accident and became a T45 and 6 paraplegic. I wrote this short as a way to process my own grief. As a writer that’s how I’ve dealt with my feelings.

I mean it’s devastating and disability can affect anybody at any given point in time. It is a universal thing that everybody deals with.

When I was at USC I studied Asian Art History for one of my general requirement classes. In one of my classes we studied this painting called Eka Showing his Severed Arm to Daruma. I didn’t know anything about this painting but it was written in the Muromachi Period by a guy named Sesshu Toyo. It shows the Daruma which is the Bodhidharma (the guy that founded Zen Buddhism).

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And the legend goes that he meditated in a cave for 9 years and his limbs fell away. He had no need for them anymore. So he was this sort of round object, he had no arms and legs, nothing.

The painting depicts this guy named Eka who was a would-be pupil, a disciple who is so desperate to study with the Daruma. So Eka severs his own arm and presents it to the Daruma and he wakes the Daruma from a trance. But Daruma is like You’ve missed the point of the lessons and he turns them away.

I was so haunted by this painting because it was so garish and so ugly. But what happened was when my family member was recovering from their injury (they spent months in rehabilitation) they were roomed with a young man who had lost both of his arms in an electrical accident. And they had both turned age 21 and they both had their lives ahead of them. They were both just starting and you could see the indomitable spirit they had. They were getting into all kinds of mischief and stuff in the recovery center. They were still the same people, they had just had these life-changing injuries but they were the same people. This is where the idea of Daruma came because here was one young man who had just lost his arms and another young man who had just lost both of his legs.

So together the theme of this, it becomes one person. If you look online you will see what a Daruma doll is. A Daruma doll is a round doll that is popular in Japanese culture. When you get one you color in one eye black and make a wish. When your wish comes true, you color in the other eye.

So the Daruma features as an underlying theme in the story. But the story, I wrote a fictionalized version of the relationship that unfolded. This is a story that follows a very bitter and angry paraplegic named Patrick who discovers that he has a four-year-old daughter from a one night stand before he got injured. And he takes her for an insurance payout and he quickly learns that he can’t parent. So he has to take her to live across the…(Watch the video interview on Youtube here).

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DARUMA is inspired by a true story about two unlikely friends: a paraplegic & a double amputee. Kelli and her team are authentically casting amazing actors, Tobias Forrest & John Lawson. Disability inclusion is the last bastion of inequality in Hollywood: it’s time for change. Video is closed captioned.

About Kelli:

Kelli McNeil is a Los Angeles based writer, actor, voiceover artist and producer. As a graduate of the University of Southern California’s School of Drama, McNeil has performed in multiple film, TV and stage productions and wrapped production on three features in 2017, including Gus Van Sant’s new movie, Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot.     

She was selected to attend BADA (British American Drama Academy) during her junior year. She currently has a national commercial airing for Little Caesars, directed by celebrated commercial director Harold Einstein of Dummy Films. She has voiced numerous commercial, corporate and theatrical projects.     

McNeil has also carved out a career for herself in advertising, where she has been a Creative Director and writer for multiple clients, including Fortune 50 companies. Her focus has been on producing digital spots and content creation…(Continued here on Kellimcneil.com).



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SAWGRASS on Youtube by Jack Peterson. Jack is an American filmmaker based in Chicago. He’s been featured in the New York Times, the Daily Beast, and ABC News for his work as an activist. His first feature film, Sawgrass, is a psychedelic journey through Florida, featuring an extensive interview with the brother of the Las Vegas shooter. Sawgrass also features a performance by the Rock-afire Explosion, a vintage animatronic band created by famed inventor Aaron Fechter. Jack’s next feature film, My Perfect Everything, tells the story of a magician chasing an imaginary woman he met in 1989. My Perfect Everything is currently in the early stages of pre-production.