[Image © Can Stock Photo / ibreakstock]
Autism has been the Big Scary since the 70’s, when it became a diagnostic and not merely the subheader “retarded”. I remember that they had an extended PSA about it via Quincy, which just goes to show how long this has been going on. But despite this being a thing for so very, very long, there has been one consistent portrayal of autism in all the media in all five fucking decades I’ve lived in.
Autistic people are always white males.
Be it the white male burden child, the white male asshole genius, the white male comedy butt monkey, or even the white male wonderkind with special powers, the focus is always on white men.
I can only name one example of media that portrayed an autistic character who wasn’t a white man, and that was one episode of The Miss Fisher Mysteries where a student studying medicine was both Autistic and female. Of course, Miss Fisher has the excuse of being set in the 1920’s to not cover neurodivergence in POC, but that’s just an excuse to my mind.
One. Out of however-many thousands of examples. Just one.
Got a problematic male lead character who’s essentially a man-child and tends to get away with whatever he wants? Give him the Autism hat and all of a sudden, you’re inclusive and understanding of neurodivergent peoples. Huzzah!
Thing is, Autism is not limited to white males. It happens to folks across the board. It happens to ladies. It happens to POC. It happens to transgender folk. It happens to disabled people. You could have a blind transgender person of colour who also has autism. It happens.
But… when you ask Hollywood – or any other media maker out there, the Autistic person is always a white male. I’m starting to think it’s band-aid diversity at this point.
Whoops. This cast is too pale and too male. Let’s add the Autism label to someone who isn’t the Token [token black, token girl, token native representative, token insert-minority-here] and now this otherwise normal white boy is now neurodivergent and the writers/producers can pat themselves on the back for a job
half-arsed well done.
Band-aid representation is not good representation. It’s a flimsy fix for something really, really rotten in all the media we consume. As in, all the whitewash still flowing through our screens.
They don’t cover the issues amongst ND peoples. They don’t cover anything along the multitude of trials and prejudice encountered by ‘normal enough’ ND folk. They don’t for a minute think about the number of times an adult Autistic person would have heard the word ‘retard’ used as an insult against them or any other. They don’t think about how various people have forced interaction between the ND person and people more likely to treat them like shit because the ND person “needs to make friends”.
They don’t think about any of the struggles that someone who is ND might face on a daily basis. Not one of these ND-Hero pieces I have seen has once covered how anyone ND might have a bad day.
ND people in the media are either tragic, super-powered, or are the figure of mockery. There is nowhere, apart from just one episode of Miss Fisher, where the ND person on the screen has to fight a bad day or struggle against adversity because of their condition and still be a hero.
That kind of sucks, to my mind.
I’m Autistic. I’m not male. I am white, but nobody can help an accident of birth. I would absolutely adore being able to see a POC on the screen who is also a lady with Autism. Sure, there’d be a lot of outcry from some about how “the writers were filling in as many checkboxes as possible,” but I would greet a character like that with open arms. Especially if she was done well.
Let’s have more black heroines. Yes. Let’s have more heroines in general. Let’s have more heroes with Autism, too. But give them the good and the bad. Give the audience watching our heroes face as they listen to their mother contemplating infanticide out loud to relatives and friends because said parental thinks its more merciful. Let the audience see how horrible that is to hear.
Give them the bad days when they can’t stand to be in the outside world. Give them episodes where they’re struck with a non-verbal day and have to deal with assholes cutting in line because they have to use an app on their phone to communicate. And for fuck’s sake, let’s have a hero who has communication cards on a fucking lanyard or a piece of chewelry. Give the audience the idea that this thing can be normal if we just let it be that way.
Let an Autistic heroine be real. And not just a cardboard prop with a band-aid on it.