What’s It Like to Be a Little Person in New York?

Jonathan Novick is a 22-year-old filmmaker in New York City. He’s also a little person. Novick has lived in the city for a little more than a year now, and during his time here he’s become increasingly frustrated by both the subtle and overt prejudices he experiences on a daily basis. People stare, ask rude questions, and are incredibly obvious about the pictures they’re trying to secretly take with their phones. 

So Novick wanted to show the world the city he sees, from his point of view. For two days, he wore a hidden camera and filmed his interactions with people around in Queens, midtown, Chinatown, and Union Square.

The six-minute film is now an online hit; it’s racked up more than a million page views in the two weeks since Novick posted it. So to hear a little more about the documentary, Science of Us got Novick on the phone.

What made you want to make this film?

In my life, I had experienced negative treatment, but when I moved here it had just gotten to this crazy amount of negative confrontations. And it all culminated in one moment: I was leaving work, and I basically was jumped over by someone, while other people watched. I’ve never been more angry in my entire life.

And the anger lasted for hours, days, and I was trying to think of something positive I could do with this feeling. So that’s essentially where the original idea came from. 

Do you remember what you expected New York to be like, when you first moved here?

I didn’t really expect much of anything. I expected to be overwhelmed at first. I think it was when I started noticing that people might be taking pictures of me and, and especially when I noticed flashes going off — that’s what got me going and into this negative mind-set.

It just caught me off guard. All of a sudden, I was very aware that I was different, which is not something I had experienced before.

Do you have any specific moments from the film you want to talk about?

The film captures the idea that you never really expect this stuff; I’ve never gone to one location and prepared myself for the worst. One moment that stands out is the gentleman who sat right down with me at my table while I was eating lunch, and started asking some very pointed questions. I could tell by the way he was talking he wasn’t really from here. He just sat down — he was so open. I’m not, like, angry at him for that. It just seemed like he had a very unique personality. He was very nice.

Also, in the film I did include children’s reactions. I don’t think that them asking questions is really a bad thing, and of course I would never yell at a child, since they don’t know any better. They’ve probably never seen a dwarf before in their life. I should be clear that I’m not blaming children for their stares or questions.

What kind of reactions are you getting so far? And do you look at those unkind behaviors any differently now that you’ve made this film?

Gradually – even before the film was finished — as I did spend more time here in New York, I started to get used to it. We kind of get used to treatment, both positive and negative — that’s how our brains work. And it’s served a purpose now, to help me tell this story. I think, actually, making the documentary, and having something to show for these experiences, definitely did help in a sense.

And the responses I’ve been getting have been phenomenal. I’m very happy — it was well-received. I don’t think the video changed me as much as the responses changed me. I’ve been hearing things that just sound terrible. I know now I don’t have it as bad as a lot of other people out there.

This conversation has been lightly edited.

What’s It Like to Be a Little Person in NYC?