Hollywood's Exclusion of Autistic Actors Highlights its Biggest Diversity Problem: Disability

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alex
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21 Aug 2016, 6:22 pm


Hollywood has come a long way in the representation of autistic people since the release of Rain Man almost 30 years ago, but one major problem that still exists is the lack of representation of autistic actors. There are an increasing number of autistic characters on television and in film, but almost none of these characters have been played by actors who are actually autistic, despite the fact that there are many of us able to play those roles.

I’m autistic and work as a consultant for autistic characters in Hollywood. I’m best known for my work on FX’s The Bridge, in ...



ASPartOfMe
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21 Aug 2016, 6:53 pm

Before you can get openly Autistic actors playing Autistic characters you have to get actors to come out as autistic. Since Seinfeld said he might be autistic and was massively criticized then said he was not autistic has any entertainment star besides Jefferies come out? None that I know of and it has been almost 2 years.

I do not think we have advanced that much since Rain Man. Most charactors are milder more sexually diverse versions of the same charactor. Hank on Parenthood was probably the biggest break from the stereotype a middle age average intelligence working class/middle class guy, savant at nothing. It should be noted that the clinicion decided Hank was kind of autistic not fully autistic.


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21 Aug 2016, 6:59 pm

I don't really think there's an active discrimination of autistic actors. Though some autistic people may excel at it, acting doesn't seem like something that would come naturally to someone who's autistic. We have lots of impairment in reading and displaying emotions, and that is the one thing that acting demands of people, so it would be natural for autistic people to be underrepresented in the field of acting.



alex
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21 Aug 2016, 7:10 pm

Saxgeek, there are plenty of actors with autism. In some ways I think autistics may be better at it. We've had to act "normal" our whole lives just to fit into neurotypical society.


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AdamLain
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21 Aug 2016, 7:45 pm

I wish Ryan Gosling would come out.



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21 Aug 2016, 8:18 pm

Almost all actors decline to play characters which are too similar with their own lives. Part of the reason is a desire to maintain the ability to play characters which are outside their comfort zones. Another part is a desire to protect their personal privacy. Both are understandable, of course.

It isn’t only actors who expect certain conditions in their professional lives. Their employers, the production companies, rely on the ability of their employees to maintain a kind of professional stability as much as the production’s ticket sales or television ratings. Actors are insured (like health insurance) in case they quit, get fired, are injured and are forced to leave a production, or even engage in certain behaviors that could jeopardize the production (see Keanu Reeves’ admitted drug use).

So, it wasn’t too long ago that actors wished to avoid disclosing facts about their lives for fear that, like Will & Grace actor Sean Hayes, the facts might influence their next job, or the one after that. To their producers, even the fear of rumor drove much of the decision to employ actors (see Charlie Sheen’s threatened contract lawsuit). Fearing the loss of his future roles, Hayes disclosed his sexual orientation only after years of nondisclosure.

So, if Max Burkholder had, like his character, actually been autistic, would his concerns about a budding career in film and television be respected, or, like Hayes, should the community he represented have the right to disclose his autism by proxy? If Burkholder had been autistic in the first season of the series, how would that fact have affected the character’s portrayal in the last season?

These are the concerns and doubts that every production company anguishes over. Given that it is difficult or impossible to predict the future, most companies play it safe.

History tells us that the answer seems to reside in finding that blockbuster film or series than can afford to take chances. But, the concerns are resolved when a director or producer can see an autistic actor portray a non-autistic character as well as the autistic actor portraying a non-autistic character. That is the actor in which the production company will invest its money.



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21 Aug 2016, 8:25 pm

* raises hand * I volunteer to become an actor! :D



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21 Aug 2016, 8:27 pm

Sock Puppet text removed.



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21 Aug 2016, 9:11 pm

I gave up on Hollyweird decades ago. All I ever see coming out of LaLa land since the late 1960's is sex and violence.


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21 Aug 2016, 9:57 pm

that sounds like flawed logic to me. concern with the way how the condition is portrayed, sure, i get it, even if i'm not so concerned with it myself (movies are rarely realistic anyway). and aspies themselves working as consultants, yes, that makes perfect sense if the idea is to be more accurate and meaningful with the artistic portrayal (i did instantly recognize how authentic the main character of "the bridge" was when i watched it, and i did like the series. i had no idea any consultant was involved, let alone that it was the founder of wp). but i don't think it makes any sense to expect autistic characters to be portrayed by autistic actors

for one thing, autism is a heterogenous range of neurological conditions with a very wide range of possible manifestations, usually with no clearly apparent features apart from behavior. it's not a type of person ("women" or "children" would be valid examples of types of people). so even if the idea is for "each type of character to be portrayed by that same type of people", it already doesn't make sense. it sounds reductionistic to me. and, artistically and professionally, the very idea doesn't make sense either, as others have pointed out

also, think about it: you wouldn't expect a schizophrenic character to be portrayed by a schizophrenic actor. you might argue that "any type of schizophrenia is an illness, while high-functioning autism is not", but i know of some people with a milder and more chronic variation of schizophrenia (schizotypal disorder) who would disagree. so it's not essentially different. the only essential difference is that aspergers has become a pop culture thing, while schizotypal disorder remains an obscure clinical concept. but the people are out there just the same

i think that if the idea is to have everybody's respect, then making (or, even worse, demanding) exceptions should be actively avoided when no exceptions are needed. education is a universal right, but hollywood isn't. movie characters should be portrayed by good actors, and autism shouldn't be a factor either way. if autism or other psychiatric or neurological conditions are underrepresented among actors, it's because these conditions usually make it harder for someone to be a good professional actor. other people are better qualified for the job. it's simple as that


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21 Aug 2016, 11:34 pm

alex wrote:
Saxgeek, there are plenty of actors with autism. In some ways I think autistics may be better at it. We've had to act "normal" our whole lives just to fit into neurotypical society.



I was thinking what you said when reading Saxgeeks post :) There seems to be many on the spectrum that are actors/actresses and many that are on the spectrum that probably dont realize they are, In some ways seems to make sense for many on the spectrum to get into acting/arts.. I was the same when i was a kid, wanted to be an actor mainly to combat fear of people and crowds etc until i was forced to do a french play entirely in french and after that experience changed my mind rapidly! lol... Daryl Hannah ( for those in their 30/40's) will remember from films such as Splash....

Here is a great interview with her talking about her experience in acting and autism :) i know many will be able to relate to much of what she says :)

https://vimeo.com/78030266



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22 Aug 2016, 1:51 am

alex wrote:
Saxgeek, there are plenty of actors with autism. In some ways I think autistics may be better at it. We've had to act "normal" our whole lives just to fit into neurotypical society.


"Prentending to be normal", "Masking" are describing acting.


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b9
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22 Aug 2016, 3:31 am

alex wrote:
In some ways I think autistics may be better at it. We've had to act "normal" our whole lives just to fit into neurotypical society.




well i do not accommodate my behavior to expectation, and i am lucky i have no condemnable aspects about my character, so i am not experienced in faking stuff with the intent to actually make anyone believe it.

i can however imitate many personality styles that i can dramatically amplify, and i do like sometimes to go into a pretend world where my personality is extremely different than the one i really have.

but if i was to play a character in a movie, i would have to craft the character's personality to my liking before accepting the job.

i have a personality which most people who know me say is unlike any other personality they have ever encountered (not better or worse, just unique), and i think that one thing a person with a curiously assembled personality can contribute to movies is new character styles that could not have been thought up by NT's. understandable character styles, but none the less, not ever seen anywhere else before.

i like L.A because i like GTA 5, and i like the google earth street views and stuff. i think it is the best place in america to live, but L.A is a brutal place for people with nothing exceptional about them.

god, this post may be totally irrelevant, but i can not determine it so i will press "post"



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22 Aug 2016, 8:49 am

alex wrote:
... Hollywood has come a long way in the representation of autistic people since the release of Rain Man almost 30 years ago, but one major problem that still exists is the lack of representation of autistic actors. There are an increasing number of autistic characters on television and in film, but almost none of these characters have been played by actors who are actually autistic, despite the fact that there are many of us able to play those roles. ...
Sure, Alex, and you've addressed a pernicious problem in Hollywood - actors are cast to portray characters that they were not "born to play". That is, able-bodied actors portray wheelchair-bound, blind, and otherwise disabled characters; Caucasian men and women are cast as Asian characters; and neurotypical actors (i.e., Dustin Hoffman, et al.) are given lead and supporting roles as "Rainmen" and "Rainwomen".

Of course, in productions featuring space aliens (for example), it is necessary to give a human actor a few facial prostheses, a cheesy costume, and a script. But in cases where there is ample talent that is already of the type that the character is described as, affixing latex appliances and makeup to the average actor is akin to putting blackface on a white person and then putting on a minstrel show!

I took acting lessons, did the rounds and cattle calls back in the 1990s, and even had an agent. Most of the time, however, the casting directors placed me in the background crowd scenes. The rest of the time, they gave me the old "Don't call us ..." speech.

Playing the 40-something to 60-something autistic nerd who provides the protagonist with the clue that saves the world from total annihilation would be a major highlight of my life, even if the only credit I received was toward the bottom of the "Cast of Characters - In Order of Appearance" list in the closing credits.

But I don't fit the "GQ Type" so often seen in programs and movies these days. I am a hunchbacked, portly, mostly bald, 60-ish Aspie man who walks with a limp. I'm more likely to be cast as "Igor, the mad doctor's lab assistant" than anything representing a 3-dimensional character.

Casting directors are more interested in how you look than in how well you can fill the role.

Ah, well ... back to designing robots ...

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Last edited by Fnord on 22 Aug 2016, 9:05 am, edited 1 time in total.

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22 Aug 2016, 9:05 am

saxgeek wrote:
I don't really think there's an active discrimination of autistic actors. Though some autistic people may excel at it, acting doesn't seem like something that would come naturally to someone who's autistic. We have lots of impairment in reading and displaying emotions, and that is the one thing that acting demands of people, so it would be natural for autistic people to be underrepresented in the field of acting.


That is kind of what I was thinking...I don't doubt there are some with autism who are good at acting, but I don't think it's a field we'd generally excel in. I don't think there is a rule book for hollywood that says 'no autistic actors/actresses are to be used.' I suppose I see it similarly to the lack of female artists in metal, I don't think it points to active discrimination against females, but rather there just aren't as many female artists interested in playing that sort of music or doing the vocals for it.


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