AUTISM AND ‘THE A WORD’, ‘THE GOOD DOCTOR’ AND ‘ATYPICAL’ DO THEY GIVE AN ACCURATE PORTRAYAL OF AUTISM?
The A word, The Good Doctor and Aytpical are in my view tick box television, in that it ticks the disability box and that’s where it ends. This show for me is another example of Autistic people being played by non-Autistic actors and having a non-Autistic head writer at its helm.
I’ve written extensive articles on the importance of having and hearing an Autistic voice on TV but yet again it feels like those within the world of TV are ignoring me and my community.
The current TV landscape consists of Atypical, the Good Doctor and the A word and what do the above three shows have in common? The actors playing the main characters are all non-Autistic.
It doesn’t end here, it heads towards the writer’s room, to the producers, the directors and beyond.
If we cannot even get Autistic actors onto the TV screens, then how are these shows being made?
Its blatant discrimination, none of those people that write for these shows can have any idea of what it’s like to live my life on a day to day basis, how I communicate with others, what triggers I have, what’s going to cause me to have a meltdown, because they’re non-Autistic.
Now they can read and chat with as many Autistic organisations as they like, but the one thing that they simply cannot replicate is my authentic Autistic voice which is what is constantly missing from any of these actors’ performances.
There is nothing more offensive than seeing what I call tick box television. By tick box television I mean that at the network pitch meeting, the creator has just announced that a disabled character will be leading this drama/comedy, this character will be the one whose world we will explore, we’ll be introduced to their character traits, and it’ll be all neatly wrapped up in a bow and the commissioning person at the network ticks a box and proudly beams away having meet the networks disability criteria for the year.
Well, news flash you haven’t. Sorry to burst your bubble their Chad (this will be his name for the purposes of this article) but what you’ve done is severely pissed of an entire community of people.
You’ll cast a non-Autistic actor/actress in the role, none of the writing staff will be Autistic, nor will any of the crew, and all you’ve actually done is to make a disability show from a non-disability person’s perspective. Which is frankly a fucking insult.
I’m not asking for a lot here, I’m asking to see a more accurate representation of me and my Autism on screen, I’m asking that we can be more involved in the creative process, I’m asking that we don’t simply tick boxes to get a show onto a network.
You may have gotten down to this section of the piece and wonder why does it matter?
It matters because for people not living with a disability or who don’t have a close connection with someone who is, the consequences may be hard to see. But for me and those within the disability community, it leaves us feeling we are invisible.
It matters because I have a story to tell and I want my voice to be heard and not see a second-hand version of my story on screen.
It matters because according to data compiled by Screen Australia, while we make up 18 per cent of the Australian population, we make up just 4 per cent of characters in TV dramas.
It matters because having diversity on screen benefits the authenticity of a production and the chances of a positive response from audiences. We are not a one-size-fits-all society, we are all different and diverse, and that should be represented and celebrated in what we see on screen.
It matters because I know what a difference that would have made to me growing up and trying to navigate my way in this world living with Autism if there had been more positive depictions of people with disability in the media.
I wouldn’t have struggled so much with my self-worth or confidence and would have had a range of visible role models to whom I could relate and even aspire to be.
We all have a story to tell. What people with disabilities need now is the opportunity to tell them. We need access to the necessary platforms to provide insights into our diverse disability community, educating, informing and enriching the audience with our different experiences.
We need greater opportunities for disabled writers to share their personal experience of living with a disability and the many challenges that they face in today’s society. And we need these stories to be authentic by having disabled people tell them.
From the executives, there needs to be a greater level of comfort and confidence around incorporating diversity and disability into scripts for TV shows and movies.
Diversity has the potential to generate connection and empathy and can also help shift perceptions of “otherness’” within the Australian disability community.
Movies and television content all have the capacity to create emotional connections, educate and highlight important views and opinions. It reflects our sense of who we are as a society and who we might be. We now need it to become a place which allows disabled people the chance to tell their stories and for our voices to be heard.
Carry On The Conversation
Do you agree with me?
Is it right that a non-Autistic person writes a show about Autistic people?
Thank you for reading and I will see you next time for more thoughts from across the spectrum.