'Avatar' Gets Mixed Praise From Paraplegics

"They also showed this 90-pound woman have four or five people transfer her. Totally ridiculous," said Klebine, who works at the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "She wouldn't need that kind of assistance to transfer her to a wheelchair. My mom can transfer me and I'm 240 pounds -- and my mom is 64 years old."

Movies Use Extremes With Wheelchair Users, Advocates Say

"He would rather stay on this island with smoke monsters than go back to Earth in a wheelchair," said Muha. "Me? I would pick to stay here with my friends and family."

J. Scott Richards, director of research at the Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Center at the University of Alabama, said Sully's character flaws in "Avatar" also made the film appealing.

"The other thing that people in wheelchairs might appreciate is having a key character who is not a super achiever," said Richards, who counsels patients after spinal cord injuries.

Richards said Hollywood portrays extremes when it shows characters with disabilities: "A physically achieving athlete in a wheelchair, or the opposite end of that -- someone who is miserable and has a horrible life.

Santina Muha said she got "chills" watching Sully, the paraplegic from "Avatar."

"I'd much rather see the middle of the road. Where people are just people but they happen to be in a wheelchair," he said.

Producers of the film at Fox did not reply to requests for interviews for this story.

While "Avatar" rings true emotionally with some, that doesn't mean people who use wheelchairs think it's completely accurate.

"As a person with a spinal cord injury, you kind of notice a few things that are out of whack," said Klebine.

Many wheelchair users said Sully's legs looked skinny, and wondered if director James Cameron had digitally altered them to make them appear atrophied.

They also noticed a detail others might miss -- that Sully didn't have a specialized cushion.

"Even for people in manual wheelchairs, they use some sort of cushion to prevent pressure sores," said Klebine.

Muha said Sully labored too much when he got in and out of his wheelchair.

"There was one scene when he was doing a transfer and he had to pull his legs over -- I thought he struggled too much with the weight of his legs," said Muha. "I'm a little girl, and he was a big strong guy. It should take much less effort for him to transfer."

Still, Muha and others were glad to see a disabled character in a movie about something other than disability.

"I do think that it's an advance in seeing people in wheelchairs in the entertainment industry," said Klebine. "I just wish people who have a disability get a chance to play those roles."

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