GenreAdventure, Comedy, Drama CountryUnited States
Release date7 March 1984 WriterArthur Heinemann (teleplay), Franklin Thompson (story)
Backwards: The Riddle Of Dyslexia is a 1984 ABC Afterschool Special about dyslexia. It shows how dyslexia is detected and treated. The film stars 13-year-old River Phoenix in "one of his first major roles" as Brian Ellsworth. Joaquin Phoenix (credited as Leaf Phoenix) also stars as his younger brother Robby. According to AllMovie, Brian Ellsworth is a junior high student "who has a habit of writing his words – and the letters – backwards. Brian's friends think he's kidding, his teachers think he's lazy, and his parents think he's slow. In truth, Brian suffers from dyslexia."
A young river joaquin phoenix in afterschool special backwards the riddle of dyslexia 1984
Brian Ellsworth is a good student, however he can't read properly. At home, he asks his brother Robby for help, whenever he needs some help. When he is at school, he tries to avoid reading and writing. Whenever the teacher tells him to write something, he disturbs the lesson. Most of the teachers think that Brian is lazy. Brian's classmates think that Brian enjoys to annoy the teachers. Only one of his teachers wants to help Brian. She tries to find out the reasons behind his behavior. Brian's classmate, Kim, also tries to help Brian. She gives him private lessons. When it's discovered that Brian sufferers from dyslexia, he finally gets the help he needs. He slowly learns to write and read.
Backwards: The Riddle of Dyslexia is a televevision family drama directed by Alexander Grasshoff. It aired as an ABC Afterschool Special on March 7, 1984. In 1989 Backwards: The Riddle of Dyslexia was released on VHS in the United States. It was also shown at schools as an educational programme about dyslexia. It was meant for students from grade four to six.
It was one of the first major roles for the real-life brothers River Phoenix and Joaquin Phoenix. Joaquin Phoenix got his first award nomitation for the film. For River Phoenix it was his third award nomitation, after two nominations for his portrayal of Guthrie McFadden in the television series Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.
River Phoenix also suffered from dyslexia. However it wasn't known while River Phoenix was filming Backwards: The Riddle of Dyslexia. In 1986, two years after the film was broadcast, River Phoenix was diagnosed as dyslexic.
Nominated: Daytime Emmy Award: Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography (Gregory M. Cummins)
Nominated: Daytime Emmy Award: Outstanding Writing in a Children's Special (Franklin Thompson and Arthur Heinemann)
Several psychologists critzise that the film supports the outdated common believe that reversing letters in words is the central feature of dyslexia. Good is that the film shows that dyslexia isn't an indicator of low mental ability and that many highly intelligent people have dyslexia too.
The US Magazine described the drama as slight but River Phoenix's portrayal as subtle and uncompromisingly real.