Neurodiversity representation needs to be amplified within the media

D'Juanna Lester, Senior Reporter

Diversity is very important to me, as someone who hasn’t always seen themselves in the entertainment industry. Everyone deserves to watch a movie or a show and see themselves, not just as a token diversity point, but as a fully fleshed out character that the audience can be inspired by. In order to learn more about diversity in the entertainment industry, we have to take a step back and look at what is considered “diverse.” 

Historically, most forms of representation have been what we’ve seen in power; straight, white and able-bodied men. For marginalized groups, it’s been a battle to not only get mainstream media representation, but accurate representation.

“[Diversity is] a representation of people who aren’t a part of the hegemony; people in power historically,” Bridget Kies, Assistant Professor of Cinema Studies at OU said.  “The U.S. is changing, and everyone needs to have that opportunity to watch something and see themselves reflected on the screen.” 

Earlier this year, “Music,” produced by Australian singer Sia, was supposed to be this grand representation for the autistic community. This is a community with very little representation, and when it is represented it contains a lot of stereotypes. Sia being neurotypical and refusing to listen to autistic people led to the movie flopping. It currently has a score of 8% on Rotten Tomatoes

Similar problems occur with Netflix’s “Atypical,”  harmful stereotypes and a neurodivergent character portrayed by a neurotypical actor. Some of the use of comedy in “Atypical” creates a mockery of serious moments. There are so many autistic actors out there that could play these roles, that could allow for more accurate portrayal. Hollywood just hasn’t been giving them the chance. 

In contrast, Hulu has seemed to tackle autism better with more accurate representation. “Everything’s Going to Be Okay” stars Kayla Cormer, an autistic actor playing an autistic character. The show has been well received by the community, and the success opens up doors to do more. Her performance is authentic, whereas Maddie Ziegler’s in “Music” felt forced. Cromer comes with background knowledge of what it’s like to be an autistic teenager. 

People that are actually in these marginalized communities need to be on and behind the screen. Without them, people may not know what they’re talking about and adding in whatever stereotypes they want, and calling it diversity. They can market these shows as accurate representation, while people who relate to these experiences, once again get the short end of the stick. 

“There is a need for more diversity with current movements, and people with lived experiences can bring that,” Kies says. “Having more of them behind the screen can change those problematic story lines and stereotypes.” 

Different communities need to see themselves represented properly, and there’s not a singular life experience for these groups. This means that we need more and different scenarios, so it’s not just one example on screen being portrayed as representation of an entire group.