You may have heard of Sia’s new movie, Music, which was criticised before release for casting a non-autistic actor as a mostly non-verbal, autistic main character.
In the midst of Sia lashing out at criticism on social media, ATLAS members talked about how the casting of Music and the release trailer made them feel.
Many of the young people were disappointed that a potential opportunity for representation of girls with autism was overwritten by ableism:
Other young people were torn, because they felt that additional needs and disabilities have been successfully portrayed by actors without additional needs and disabilities elsewhere:
Overall, ATLAS members did not feel that the casting of ‘Music’ was positive.
The portrayal of autism in the media
Sadly, this film does not stand in isolation. The majority of ATLAS members reported that they felt the portrayal of autism in the media was either ‘not very good’ or ‘really terrible’.
There were mixed views around having non-speaking autistic characters in films, however there was a largely positive response to having female characters with autism.
Film is a powerful medium. When used correctly, it can empower and educate people. When somebody sees a film focused on autism, that may be their first exposure to the idea of autism or to an autistic person. This provides an opportunity for people to talk about and approach autism in better ways. Unfortunately, if the film misrepresents people with autism, then the ideas taken from a film could lead to autistic people being viewed and treated in negative ways.
two people with the same condition can have completely different experiences of it
the level of disability someone might experience can vary from day to day.
When people don’t understand the nature of fluidity in disability, it leads to stereotyping and contributes to how disabling society is. People with additional needs and disabilities are actively excluded based on assumptions and passively through it being ignored.
The most important thing to do is listen.
You don’t need to understand how an additional need or disability affects someone to accept it. To believe the individual. To accommodate.
I’m going to crush you with my love
Perhaps one of the most dangerous misunderstandings the film portrays is the use of prone restraint. Restraint should only be used if there is an immediate danger to that individual or others. When that danger has passed, restraint should stop.
ATLAS recently talked about the use of restraint in schools for managing the behaviour of young people with additional needs and disabilities:
Participation, participation, participation
The film Music being released at the same time as ATLAS is starting to look towards Autism Awareness Week (29th March to 4th April 2021) highlights to me the sheer importance of participation and listening to the voices of people who are experts in their own experience!
How different these events could have been if the voices shared around the release trailer of Music had been properly listened to and acted upon. How different the representation of minorities, vulnerable groups, discriminated groups, those the industry continuously promote stereotypes about could be.
Film can reflect society, but it can also heavily influence it and bring about positive change.
ATLAS members have some advice for anyone reading this who wishes to portray characters with additional needs and disabilities:
Written by Sabrina Peters, Additional Needs and Disabilities Participation Officer and edited by Rowan Foster, ATLAS member and Bank worker for the User Voice and Participation Team.