OU student with DID to be focus of film

Julie Wiles, above, is a master of fine arts student at Ohio University. She is working on completing her thesis documentary about Mary Robinson, a non-traditional student living with multiple personality disorder. Robinson, 65, was diagnosed at the age of 40 and has up to 34 different personalities. (JASON CHOW | Staff Photographer)

When Mary Robinson dons her cap and gown June 9, it won’t just be her age that sets her apart from her peers.

Robinson, who will turn 66 on June 2 and will graduate with a degree in communication studies, has spent the past two years with a tail; Julie Wiles, an MFA student and filmmaker, has been following Robinson since 2009, chronicling her journey through college and life.

Why did Wiles choose Robinson, of all people, as the focus of her thesis documentary, We Are Mary? At the age of 40, Robinson was diagnosed with dissociative identity — more commonly known as multiple personality — disorder.

Having met through mutual friends several years ago, Wiles and Robinson developed a strong relationship when Wiles made a short documentary film about Robinson during her first year of graduate school in 2009. Impressed by what she was able to do in her short, the School of Film encouraged Wiles to pursue the story more until it ultimately became her thesis project and now a feature film.

“Documentaries have a life of their own, and they keep growing,” said Steve Ross, director of the School of Film who also helped shoot and light several scenes in the film. “She kept following it, and it just got bigger.”

Believing that Hollywood and other sources have wrongly depicted multiple personality disorder in the past, Wiles and Robinson believe that this film, originally titled Spontaneous, will be able to give light to a more realistic and honest look at what life is like with this disorder.

“It’s an amazing experience telling this story,” Wiles said. “People make this disorder out to be a circus act, as violent and extreme. Mary’s story creates an alternative to this. Mary is a representation of a more universal and accurate depiction of dissociative identity disorder.”

In total, Robinson has up to 34 different personalities inside of her, although many of these different personalities are snippets of different traits. Four or five of the personalities are dominant, but what Wiles believes is extraordinary is that each of these personalities has been able to adapt and listen to Robinson.

“When different people come with Julie to film an interview, they are often disappointed because they expect things to be different,” said Robinson. “They expect me to be more extreme and they are surprised when they see that I’m not.”

Robinson’s struggles go back to her childhood, when she developed her disorder as a result of her brother’s abuse and her severe alcoholism.

Twenty-five years after finding out about her disorder, she is now sober and finishing the degree she has wanted since she was 18.

During the past few years, though Wiles has filmed interviews with Robinson’s daughter and different people who know her, Wiles believes that she might have her documentary focus on Robinson alone and her hardships and experiences.

“I want to give a message of hope,” Robinson said. “That, despite your difficulties, you are still able to exceed and overcome your struggles.”

Although she has been filming for the past two years, Wiles is still shooting the movie, as she plans to end the film with Robinson’s graduation in June.

“It’s been a long time and I can’t wait to see it, because I have no idea why anyone would want to do a movie on my life,” Robinson said. “Then again, people usually don’t find their own life stories interesting.”

The trailer for Wiles’s documentary can be found on YouTube and Vimeo by searching “We Are Mary.”


The Post | 325 Baker University Center | Athens, Ohio 45701

Newsroom: (740) 593-4011 | Front Desk: (740) 593-4010 | Advertising: (740) 593-4018 | Fax: (740) 593-0561 | E-mail: posteditorial@ohiou.edu

Surf New Media