Funny, You Don't Look Autistic by Michael McCreary

Funny, You Don't Look Autistic by Michael McCreary

Author:Michael McCreary
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Annick Press
Published: 2019-01-09T14:45:24+00:00

Chapter 9


In the opening scene of Blade Runner, Ridley Scott’s sci-fi/film noir hybrid, a genetically engineered android, called a replicant, is taken into a room and asked a series of questions designed to tell robots from humans. The questions are meant to stimulate an emotional response, and if the replicant doesn’t respond in the correct way, they’ll be executed.

The first time I watched this scene, I had just turned fifteen, and it triggered something in me. I’m not a robot (as far as I know) and I’m not on the run from the government (yet). But it took me back to a time when I was also being asked questions intended to provoke an emotional response and scared of getting the answers wrong because I just wasn’t wired that way (literally, in the case of the Blade Runner). The image haunted me.

I identified with the replicants, the robots who were being interrogated and hunted down. To me, the movie was about people being persecuted because they didn’t fit a conventional neurological model. Blade Runner taught me true empathy. It also taught me how to read a film.

I had loved all sorts of movies since I was very young, and there were plenty of movies up until that point where I enjoyed the characters and story. But Blade Runner was the first that really made me question its purpose. Why did the director make these choices? Why was this image juxtaposed with that one? Why was this scene lit in this way to evoke this mood?

Movies have also done a lot to shape the public’s perception of autism—the most famous being Rain Man, the 1988 movie about an autistic savant played by Dustin Hoffman. We’re at a point now where we have autistic lead characters in films that aren’t even about autism. The Accountant, for example.

I don’t think these representations are inaccurate, necessarily—in all fairness, they feel like the writers talked to experts and researched their subject. But the characters often seem like a checklist of symptoms rather than real people, a collection of quirks that have been mistaken for a personality. The problem with presenting autism on-screen is that it becomes the crux of the character. Having autism is a characteristic, not a character.

The Jim Henson Company, which has been rightly lauded for doing its research, worked with the Autism Self Advocacy Network to create Julia, the autistic character on Sesame Street. Part of the reason her portrayal was so revolutionary was that the writers didn’t go to researchers—they went directly to people with autism. Having people with ASD in the writers’ room is a huge deal, and it helps create something honest and lived-in.

I’m glad to know that we have so many films coming out right now starring autistic heroes. And these aren’t sob stories about a person at war with themselves—they’re big-budget action movies! One of these heroes is a Power Ranger, for crying out loud.

We’re finally shifting away from stories where the main villain in an autistic person’s story is their own autism.


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