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A More Accurate Portrayal of Autism in the Movies

Posted by Brian Spence on Jan 29, 2018 8:00:00 AM

AutismDenzel Washington has received praise for his recent portrayal of a lawyer on the autism spectrum in "Roman J. Israel, Esq." In recent years, more and more movies and TV shows are featuring characters who display autistic traits, but not all filmmakers get it right.

The entertainment industry is notorious for its simplification of neurodevelopmental disorders, and it's rare to encounter an actor with the dedication and understanding of of this disorder to pull off a solid performance.

Washington's movie is a dramatic thriller, set in Los Angeles. While the main character, Israel is never specifically identified as a person on the autism spectrum, the film does hint at it, and Washington has confirmed it during interviews with the press.

Though Israel is incredibly attentive to detail, even memorizing the California Penal Code, he struggles with rigid thinking that prevents him from compromising when he encounters a situation that challenges his sense of what's right and what's wrong.

The social struggles that individuals on the autism spectrum experience were also touched upon in the film. Washington captured the concept that there are specific rules that can overwhelm a person's thoughts, preventing them from naturally acting as flexible as their neurotypical colleagues. Even though he displays some of the stereotypical characteristics of someone on the autism spectrum, the character definitely has a distinct personality, something that is missing from many portrayals. It's this unique perspective that Roman J. Israel is a unique person who happens to be on the autism spectrum, rather than an autistic person that fits into a predefined mold that sets the film apart.

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Image courtesy of Featurflash Photo Agency /


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