Celebrities are good for fund raising. Autism Society is backing “Aut Fest,” an autism-related film festival. The good news: The latest anti-vax film isn’t on the schedule that I can see. The bad news: Autism Society is banking on Ben Affleck bringing in the big bucks.
Affleck played The Accountant, an autistic hitman whose character depended heavily on multiple layers of damaging stereotypes about autistic people.
Let’s start by looking at the character Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck). They present the character as an edgy, unique autistic character who is different from other autistic characters that people have seen on screen before. This is why he is
A white male, unlike Raymond Babbitt, that kid from Mercury Rising, or Hugh Dancy’s character in Adam… Oh wait.
The vast majority of portrayals of disability not exclusive of autism are of white men. This is problematic in that it erases a visual representation of the huge diversity within the disabled population.
An autistic savant, unlike Raymond Babbitt, that kid from Mercury Rising, or Hugh Dancy’s character in Adam… Oh wait.
I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only autistic person who wishes that Hollywood would put a moratorium on autistic savant characters. Savantism is rare and does not accurately represent the average lived experience with autism. In film and television the opposite is apparently true. Autistic people who are not savants are basically an endangered species.
The Accountant most assuredly is an honest depiction of autism — but it is an honest depiction of what autism looks like through the eyes of humans who are allistic . . . that is, not autistic themselves. As such, it is a painful and often stereotypical rendering of a character who is constantly and explicitly signified as Other.
For the duration of the film’s 128-minute runtime, we are treated to the cold spectacle of a man whose human qualities are confined to a minimum. His face is uniformly mask-like; he exhibits no sign of a life outside the confines of his work (and of the plot); he doesn’t even bleed when punched in the face. A number of motifs do the unsubtle work of reminding the audience that Chris is not one of us.
I’ve been thinking a lot about Speechless. It’s not perfect. No work of cultural creation is perfect, especially when engaging in complex intersections of identity and agency. But it starts and ends with trying to make sure disabled people finally take control of their own narratives, in so many ways. As I wrote for Pacific Standard, I think the tightness of the genre (family sitcom) helps. Similarly for Switched at Birth or Spring Break Zombie Massacre.
I’m sure there’s an autistic-hitman movie that could similarly exploit the tightness of the genre to tell new stories about disability.
The Accountant isn’t that movie. Ben Affleck as headliner is a sign of going for the bucks, going for things that make donors and parents happy, at the expense of the autistic community.
Let me know if other autistic writers comment.