The San Diego Comic Con is this week from the 18th to the 21st. Unfortunately I’m unable to attend. If anyone reading this is going, I have one simple request: if you get the chance to speak to Alfonso Cuaron, at the Entertainment Weekly “Visionaries” panel on Thursday or at Warner Bros’ panel on Saturday or at some other chance, please ask him about his “I Am Autism” short and how he feels about it today.
I love Alfonso Cuaron’s features. Prisoner of Azkaban may be the best of the Harry Potter series. Children of Men contains some of the most beautifully shot action sequences ever made. He also produced Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, for which I’m eternally grateful, and the trailer for his next movie, an astronaut drama starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney titled Gravity, looks stunningly intense. So why can’t I get excited about seeing it? It comes back to that “I Am Autism” short, which, as someone diagnosed on the autistic spectrum myself, left me feeling offended and very disappointed.It tried to be even more negative than the most negative possible outcomes.I wasn’t alone in my offense. The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network also spoke out against the video . The video was pulled from YouTube in response to the outcry (many parodies of it remain), but believe me when I say it was awful, a scare piece that tried to define a condition as varied as autism by only its most extreme negative possible outcomes. Wait, scratch that, it tried to be even more negative than the most negative possible outcomes by trying to compare the condition to AIDS and cancer, diseases that actually kill people. Nobody, not even the most severely disabled autistics, is ever going to have “autism” as a cause of death.
According to the video, my parents should be divorced by now because of my diagnosis. Funny, it seems they’re still happily married. The attempt at a hopeful ending for the video, with the parents determined to “fight” against the EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEVVVVVVVVIIIIIIIIILLLLLLLLL autism, rings false to the many autistics such as myself who see their autism as central to their identity and something to work with and around rather than something that needs defeating.Autism Speaks realized this video went too far and pulled it, distancing themselves from it.Cuaron directed the short written by Billy Mann and produced by Autism Speaks, an organization I have some serious problems with relating to their lack of autistic representation and their massive budget being continually spent on often-troubling “awareness” campaigns instead of actual services to help people. At least Autism Speaks realized this video went too far and pulled it, distancing themselves from it by calling it a “personal expression” on the part of the filmmakers. Which makes Cuaron’s lack of any response to the criticisms of his video all the more troubling.
I don’t think it came from a place of ill intent; his youngest son had been recently diagnosed with autism when he made the video and its overdramatic generalizations probably came out of fear and ignorance more than anything. I’d hope in the years since making that short that he’s learned more (and that his son’s doing well). But we won’t know without asking. So please, Comic Con goers: ask him for me. At an event where the studios try to sell audiences on their upcoming movies, nothing would guarantee my ticket to Gravity more than confirmation that the director does not in fact see me as a tragic burden on society.