Global awareness of autism has skyrocketed since the 1980s, and popular culture has caught on, with film and television producers developing ever more material featuring autistic characters. Autism in Film and Television brings together more than a dozen essays on depictions of autism, exploring how autistic characters are signified in media and how the reception of these characters informs societal understandings of autism.
Editors Murray Pomerance and R. Barton Palmer have assembled a pioneering examination of autism’s portrayal in film and television. Contributors consider the various means by which autism has been expressed in films such as Phantom Thread,Mercury Rising, and Life Animated and in television and streaming programs including Atypical, Stranger Things, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and Community. Across media, the figure of the brilliant, accomplished, and “quirky” autist has proven especially appealing. Film and television have thus staked out a progressive position on neurodiversity by insisting on screen time for autism but have done so while frequently ignoring the true diversity of autistic experience. As a result, this volume is a welcome celebration of nonjudgmental approaches to disability, albeit one that is still freighted with stereotypes and elisions.
Preface: Two Meditations
Who Am I? (Murray Pomerance)
Before Neurodiversity (R. Barton Palmer)
1. Autistic Android? The Curious Instance of Star Trek’s Data (Ina Rae Hark)
2. Life, Animated: Adapting a Book about a Hero with Autism (Rebecca Bell-Metereau)
3. Where Is the Autism in Rain Man? (Daniel Sacco )
4. The Good Doctor: Images of Autism and Augmented Intelligence (Burke Hilsabeck)
5. Oddity and Catastrophe in The Big Short (Jason Jacobs)
6. Diagnosing the Detective: Sherlock Holmes and Autism in Contemporary Television (Christina Wilkins)
7. She’s So Unusual: The Autist in Stranger Things (Brenda Austin-Smith)
8. Autism, Performance, and Sociality: Isolated Attention in The Social Network (Elliott Logan)
9. Hidden Worlds of Female Autism (Daniel Varndell)
10. Eye Contact in Juárez: Borderline Empathy and the Autistic Detective (Douglas McFarland)
11. The Creative Evolution and Reception of Netflix’s Atypical (Christine Becker)
12. Community’s Human Laugh Track: Neurodiversity in a Metamodern Sitcom (Joshua Schulze)
13. Portrait of the Autist as a Young Man (Fincina Hopgood)
14. Due Diligence: Exploring ASD in Nightcrawler and The Accountant (Dominic Lennard)
15. Mind the Gap: Autistic Viewpoint in Film (Alex Clayton)
16. Performative Restraint and the Challenges of Empathy in Being There and Phantom Thread (Matthew Cipa)
17. “A Spoonful of Sugar”: Watching Movies Autistically (Mark Osteen)
18. David and Lisa: The Healing Power of the Group (R. Barton Palmer)
19. Jesse: Torture That Autist (Murray Pomerance)
Works Cited and Consulted
Photo Captions and Credits
Murray Pomerance is Chair of the Department of Sociology at Ryerson University, whose edited volumes include Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls: Gender in Film at the End of the Twentieth Century, and Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice: Cinemas of Girlhood.
R. Barton Palmer is a former Calhoun Lemon Professor of Literature at Clemson University and the former director of The South Carolina Film Institute. His many books include Hollywood’s Dark Cinema: The American Film Noir.