How long before we get Captain Autism?
Many reasons exist for not having more autistic characters in today’s artistic world. Most of us don’t travel very far to get our art. We mostly take in what is most popular. Do you sift through every book in the library looking for the exact story you hope to read? Or are you willing to travel across the country to be at the cinema showing a film that plays for only one day? Probably not. The majority of the art we consume is produced in bulk. I can’t imagine anyone mass producing autistic characters to meet nonexistent demand.
I see myself one day working on feature length films. It saddens me to think the art I wish to create requires me to depend on the business practices of those who may not have my best interests at heart. The opportunity won’t come to complete my dream projects unless I can convince key people of the financial potential of my creations. How do I convince them of my potential?
If autism is to have a place in today’s art culture, then the public needs to have a more accurate view of what autism is. No stories will be told if people assume there is nothing to be said. In this post I will try to design an autistic character using my understanding of the entertainment industry. Wish me luck.
Representation Without Authentication
The portrayal of autism on the big screen can be tricky to pull off. You want to show autism faithfully without it being offensive or, even worse, uninteresting. How autistic should our main character behave? The autism spectrum has people ranging from fully functional to unable to function at all. If we have a character that doesn’t function at all, then how will they be able to complete the story? If our character is fully functional and autism barely affects them, then what is the point of mentioning their autism in the story at all? Looks like we’ll have to be selective about which aspects of autism our character embodies.
Who should play the part of our autistic hero? Many great actors have portrayed autism in a tasteful and compelling way. I suppose you could get an actor who happens to have a diagnosis of autism if you are going for a level of authenticity. Personally, I care more about having an experienced actor portray the part. Actors are paid to become different characters. As long as they’re not doing an impression of what they think autism is then I’m not worried about it.
Presentation Without Affectation
How do we let the audience know onscreen that our character is autistic? Cowboys are easy to identify on film because they look the part. And it’s obvious which character the bad guy is because they do bad things. So what is an autistic character supposed to look and act like? This is where the stereotypes need to be confronted. The most common portrayal of Asperger syndrome I see in media is of a quirky, highly intelligent man who says random stuff and has very few friends. Characters like this make audiences think all people with Asperger syndrome are friendless savants. I try to explain behavioral disorders to people as being a mental, emotional, or social deficiency. All of us need improvement in these areas. If you want to portray Asperger syndrome, then make a character who is a real person facing real challenges. Chances are the character will have Asperger syndrome without you realizing it.
What role should our character take on? Common roles could be an autistic student or an autistic family member. What about a role of great significance like an autistic billionaire or an autistic government official? Without precedence we would have to make up what we think our autistic character would do in uncommon circumstances. Let us use the role of superhero for an example. What special abilities should we give our character? I’m going to avoid choosing mental powers because I feel people with autism should be seen for more than just their brain functions. And I won’t go with some random accident that gives our character superpowers because I want a genuine desire from our character to save people and not circumstantial heroism. How about a time traveler? Our character has a time travel device and other time travelers are hunting our character down. Our character has to keep moving from time period to time period so as not to leave clues in history that could reveal location or destination. Of course, going from time period to time period has a negative effect on one’s social life. Our character struggles to interact with people because while time traveling there is not enough time to learn the culture and form relationships.
I think this could work as a character. What do you think? It might be a long time from now before we get decent autistic characters shown in storytelling. The best we can do right now is be the most interesting autistic characters we can be. We might not be in the stories, but we can still make history.