Welcome to Part 2 of our 4 part series on the portrayal of disabilities in entertainment. We will be reviewing films from 12 Monkeys to Power Rangers and how they spread stigma instead of awareness. This series is not meant to criticize but critique the content based on our personal experiences and the research we conducted.
The following TRIGGER WARNINGS apply to this series: a discussion of Autism Spectrum Disorder/Being Autistic as it related to character portrayal in the film. We use ASD & Autistic to include those that identify as Autistic or as a person with autism.
Spoiler Alert! Don’t read on if you have not seen the film. Instead, check out our other blog on Navigating Interpersonal Relationships with Invisible Disabilities!
The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers! If you know what that is, then you were probably around in the 1990s for this action-packed Saturday kids’ show. Well in 2017, there was a reboot. Usually, we are not fans of reboots. However, in this case, we enjoyed watching the film. The visual effects were a nice break from the original bodysuit style of the 90s.
Nonetheless, there was one element that bothered us in the film. In fact, did you notice it too? Billy the Blue Ranger is Autistic. Articles like this one from Mashable.com read “The Power Rangers reboot is breaking down another barrier...actor RJ Cyler has revealed that his character, Billy the Blue Ranger, is on the autism spectrum.”
We suggest that you read Joshua Adams's blog, "On The Spectrum: The ‘Blue Ranger’ as an Autistic Superhero". In his writing, he describes perfectly the positive impact of the Blue Ranger.
Even though it breaks barriers, the film including this made us uncomfortable. This all falls into the category of stereotyping.
People always ask us: “Oh you have autism? like Rain Man?” or the statement, “You must be a genius!” A common one: “This is your superpower!” Even though these are compliments, they present the myth that all people on the spectrum can solve complex mathematical equations or in the case of Power Rangers, save the world.
This is not to say that autistic people are not intelligent. In fact, some are geniuses, but films that glorify people on the spectrum create an unrealistic expectation. A “Hero Worship” perception that leads to stereotyping.
We were often told to be “normal” and when it relates to math, we are expected to excel because of the diagnosis on the paper. This even happens during our interactions with educational professionals. “Your GPA is so good, so how can you have autism?”
In our opinion, film representation of people on the spectrum has the potential to break the negative stigma. At the same time though, it is important to acknowledge that perpetuating idealism about people on the spectrum creates an additional barrier: High expectations to perform at the level of fictional characters in the film.
What do you think about our review? We would love to hear your perspective, so leave a comment!
(Disclaimer: we are not medical professionals. The conclusion in this article is based on our personal experiences, diagnosis, and knowledge of mental health.)
Check out other’s thoughts on the Film!