Sensitivity to physical or psychological conditions in film & TV

The backlash that Sia’s film Music has had for its insensitive portrayal of autism, including casting her friends rather than people who have the condition it is supposedly being sensitive to got me thinking that this is an unusual thing to happen, but also a good thing to happen that it’s being called out.

There are so many physical or psychological conditions, that are dumbed down to become tropes, some of which are incidental and some of which are genuinely damaging for how people perceive what it’s like to have that condition.

I’m sure there are huge numbers of examples of this that I’m not even aware of, on top of more obvious ones, so I thought I’d start a thread where people can call out good or bad examples of this. You can even include polls if you like.

Apologies if my terminology here is insensitive, happy to be educated and change it if this has been clumsily phrased in any way.

The one that inspired me to think about starting this thread was Saga Norén in The Bridge (or Broen / Bron). Though it’s never explicitly said, there are many people who think that her character is supposed to be on the autism spectrum, though it’s never explicitly mentioned in the series. The BBC wrote this up saying that her character was a role model for people with autism, but I always found it weird that they wouldn’t explicitly address whether or not that was the case.

Saga Norén in The Bridge

  • Sensitive portrayal of autism
  • Insensitive portrayal of autism
  • A bit of both
  • Never explicitly mentioned autism, so somewhere in between
  • Not sure
  • Not seen The Bridge

0 voters

I remember being quite shocked that the actor who plays Artie in Glee (who uses a wheelchair) isn’t actually a wheelchair user. Not sure if there much backlash to that at the time, but it seemed like a weird decision when part of the whole vibe of the show was about representing diversity.

Not sure on this. Same kind of situation with Sheldon and others in Big Bang Theory. They can kind of have their cake and poke fun at it but then wave it away when it suits them because they never actual say he’s autistic (afaik)

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just wanna recommend Everything’s Gonna Be Okay as an example of a really good show for autistic (female!) representation that cast actual autistic actors, and a good show in general

(headline’s misleading lol it’s a five star review)

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I don’t have too much issue with someone playing something they’re not, provided that they’re able to do it realistically and provided that it’s a completely level playing field where it happens the other way round too.

Like an American playing a Brit is fine (provided their accent is good enough) because you get Brits playing Americans too. But an able-bodied actor playing a wheelchair user is just taking work away from actors who can’t play able-bodied parts, as well as possibly not being able to do as good a job of it.

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never watched it but people can and often do have autistic traits without being diagnosed as on the spectrum, so i don’t think there’s anything wrong with someone being depicted like that and it not being addressed. does sound like a missed chance for positive representation though i guess

It is interesting.

the series Atypical has a non neurodivergent actor playing the main role. It is an interesting TV show but I cannot say if it is well done.

I would say is that it seems sensitive. But at the same time, it does feel strange that they couldn’t have located an actor who was.

I think the age of cis actors playing trans roles might / should be over.

I didn’t make it past the first episode because (without knowing whether the writer or actors were autistic) it looked like cramming a bunch of autistic traits/stereotypes into one person rather than an actual depiction of an autistic person. Was thoroughly unsurprised to learn that the writer is allistic.

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I always thought she was autistic, but that was very much an assumption.

You’re right though, it is weird how it’s not directly addressed. In a way it almost forces you as a viewer to make the leap from her behaviour to autism. which doesn’t feel right (not sure i’ve explained that well). I was going to tick ‘sensitive portrayal’ but then changed my mind for this reason so jumped on the fence)

It’s pretty weird that Sofia Helin researched Aspergers yet it wasn’t stated Saga had it? Perhaps she took the character down that path? Interesting (I thought she was absolutely phenomenal for what its worth - both the actress and character. Loved her.)

The doubling down by Sia when it was raised though is a thing to behold!

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One of the Safdies played Connie’s SEN brother in ‘Good Time’, which certainly raised an eyebrow for me when I heard that. They explained that they had to shoot the film relatively quickly so it wouldn’t be ethical to try and cast someone so quickly, especially considering what that character goes through.

On a quick Google of the issue, I saw this blog post which is interesting (basically other low budget films have been able to cast people with autism so what the Safdies said doesn’t hold water):

I would say that the point of the film is that Connie is exploiting his brother and doesn’t really care for him in a meaningful sense. At the end of the film he is finally free of his brothers toxic influence and can start to enjoy his life.

These are my thoughts as a neurotypical person so I’ll stop talking about it and let someone with experience talk.

Now people are upset that Irish people aren’t getting cast in Irish made films, which is a bit ridiculous to be honest. Though the general destruction of the Irish accent in film is funny/horrible. Latest example:

There was definitely a thing not too long ago of having characters with obvious autistic traits (often in a ‘put in everything you read on Wikipedia’ way), but not actually commit to calling them autistic e.g. Community, Bones, The Bridge, The Big Bang Theory, Bob’s Burgers. I could never tell if that was because they didn’t want to be called out for portraying autism badly, or because they were worried the character wouldn’t be seen as interesting or ~quirky~ if they were autistic. Then sometimes when autistic people online started saying ‘hey, I reckon this character is autistic’ they would deny it in or out of the show or change the characters behaviour significantly as a how dare you.

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Have never seen this before, so thanks for that. Makes total sense just not a word id come across previously

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I was disappointed that James Corden played a gay role in The Prom, because I cannot stand James Corden.

In all seriousness, this was definitely an example of someone playing a role they should not have played.

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