Drax the Destroyer: The Autistic Alien Done RIGHT

Let’s close out Autism Acceptance Month (and start getting hyped for the next Guardians of the Galaxy movie) and take a look at a good example of an autistic-coded character: Drax the Destroyer.

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Like Peridot from Steven Universe, Drax is an alien that is very strongly coded to be autistic. He does not understand sarcasm or metaphors (very common with autistic people), may have some sensitivity issues (he never wears a shirt), is pretty blunt, and has some trouble with social skills. He also has other quirks that aren’t associated with common people.

With this, it would be very easy for the writers to botch up this character. (Look up ‘gremlin Peridot’ and you should get a good idea of how.) But while Drax can be a little rough around the edges, he ultimately proves to be a competent and even compassionate hero. He’s also an interesting character: he’s a man of honour grieving the loss of his family and will do anything to avenge them but ultimately can’t do it on his own, so he closes the gap between himself and the other Guardians in order to save the day. He grows to respect Gamora and even becomes good friends with Rocket. Best of all, he’s not a STEREOTYPE. He’s not a skinny, nerdy white man with obsessions and is a genius in math and science and has little to no empathy or even feelings. He’s not overly childlike or hard to understand or a burden to the people around him. He’s a SUPERHERO.

But the reason why I state that Drax is an autistic coded character done right is that real autistic children relate to him, as explained HERE. Autistic people can be superheroes, and don’t you forget it.

Let’s hope the sequel continues to inspire and help other autistic kids as well. As it is, Drax is a great character and an example of how you should code a non-human character as autistic without relying on harmful tropes.

 

Big Hero 6 and the Four Stages of Grief

You’ve probably heard of the five stages of grief under the Kubler-Ross model: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. You see it everywhere: it’s how grieving people deal with the loss of a loved one, right?

Not exactly.

See, Kubler-Ross developed the model while working with terminally ill patients. The model was actually originally meant to show the stages of DYING, not grieving. But since the model could also apply to the loved ones watching the patient dying, it became misrepresented to show how all people deal with grief. It’s also worth noting that the model has been criticized and not consistent with further research.

There is actually an earlier, less known model of grief: the FOUR stages of grief, developed by Parkes and Bowlby–Shock and Numbness, Yearning, Disorganization and Despair, and Reorganization and Recovery (and these stages can overlap).

When I learned about this model, I immediately remembered Big Hero 6 and how it dealt with grief. And I got to say, the filmmakers definitely did a lot of research into this aspect because the Parkes-Bowlby model is definitely present in the film.

Shock and Numbness: When Hiro realizes that Tadashi is dead, the world becomes hazy. All he can do is scream his brother’s name. In a deleted shot from the film (that’s present in the Japanese teaser trailer), this is his face during the funeral:

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You can tell he looks sad, but also numb. He can’t fully comprehend what’s happening or know how to react. (In the scenes that are present in the film, you don’t see his face at all, and all he can do is stay away from the wake.)

Yearning: He becomes extremely withdrawn, not wanting to eat or go to school, and is always thinking of Tadashi. He does not touch Tadashi’s part of the room, leaving his hat carefully on the bed, and becomes preoccupied with avenging Tadashi’s death (at this point, remembering Tadashi isn’t enough).

Disorganization and Despair: This overlaps with the yearning stage (loss of appetite, restlessness over avenging Tadashi, becoming more withdrawn), but it becomes especially apparent when Hiro finds out who killed Tadashi. He is unable to think rationally, pushing away his friends and trying to kill Callaghan. When he and Baymax retreat, Hiro starts to break down, stating that he doesn’t know if Callaghan’s death will make him feel better but that he has to do something, and when Baymax points out that this isn’t what Tadashi wanted, Hiro loses it. “Tadashi’s…gone.” “Tadashi is here.” “No…he’s not here.”

Reorganization and Recovery: With the help of his friends, Hiro does get better. He is able to go to school, becomes closer to his aunt and human friends, rebuilds his beloved robot friend (and Tadashi’s last invention), and places Tadashi’s hat in his new office. He decides to go out to do good things in his brother’s name.

This is a beautiful movie that gracefully and accurately portrays the death of a loved one and dealing with it; a lot of people have confessed that this movie actually did help them deal with the passings of their loved ones. It is one of the most important Disney movies and I hope it does become a true classic and it will continue to help people for years to come.

Your Fave is Autistic Part 9: Gordo

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I’ve been meaning to make this post for awhile.

Lizzie McGuireThat’s So Raven, and Even Stevens were my holy trinity of live action Disney Channel (or in my country, Family Channel) shows. Recently, I decided to check out Lizzie McGuire again (it’s pretty easily available online) and it holds up very well to this day.

And oh my god, when I saw Gordo again, I became 1000000000000% convinced that he was autistic. It’s amazing how I never realized it before.

I think the first major giveaway of him being autistic is that he’s extremely honest, but very blunt and on the nose, not always making appropriate statements. He doesn’t hesitate to tell the hard truth and point out when people are wrong or ridiculous and when he doesn’t like them or want to hang out with them. He also has some trouble picking up on social cues, often missing out what the rest of his peers are doing; in one episode, Ethan Craft tried to demonstrate a special pose that the boys their age were doing for their school photos, but Gordo was confused about the whole thing. In other, when Lizzie was distressed about not finding a job, Gordo was expected to say “I might not be a film director” but instead reinforced Miranda’s “I might not become a musician”.

He is highly intelligent and studious, often looking at things from a different point of view, making unique, poignant observations, such as “Any group activity that forces others to be happy, is by nature, evil”. (This can also show why he doesn’t have a lot of friends and is not very social outside of Miranda and Lizzie.)

He tends to hyperfixate on certain (often weird and definitely not mainstream) things and it often takes over his life (there have been quite a few episodes on his obsessions) and does not always like sharing them (or only shares it with certain people). But his biggest passion is to direct (again, a common interest for a lot of autistic people is with movies).

He is seen playing with a hacky sack a lot (kicking it around), which can easily be seen as stimming.

More than anything, he repeatedly makes it clear that he is not like everyone else and values individuality and being true to yourself. I relate to that a lot. I had trouble understanding why I had to conform to social roles, and often see things differently from others (my whole blog is full of unpopular opinions, haha).

Since this is a 65 episode long show, there’s probably a few details I missed out, so I recommend you check the show out. It will be easy to see that he’s his own unique person, one that just so happens to be relatable to me as someone who’s autistic.

Your Fave Is Autistic Part 8: Laura/X-23

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Logan is a great movie. It is the prime example of the gritty superhero movie done RIGHT. It’s absorbing, it’s touching, it’s intense, it has a lot of heavy themes and graphic violence, but still has funny moments and an optimistic ending. I really do believe Hugh Jackman should get an Oscar nomination for his performance, even if he won’t win.

Another reason why I like this movie a lot is the character of Laura. From the moment she first showed up I immediately saw her as autistic. (Mild spoilers from this point on.)

For starters, she’s described as ‘mysterious’ and ‘strange’, and has some of Logan’s ‘volatility, instability, mood swings, and shadows’ (only manifested in a different way). Those sound like pretty common descriptions for someone who’s autistic.

For most of the film, she doesn’t talk, and when she does speak, it’s very quiet and brief; she doesn’t talk the same way the other characters do, and tends to scream or communicate through other sounds. Some autistic people have trouble communicating verbally/have problems with language skills/are known to have selective mutism, and that is almost certainly the case for her character.

She behaves a bit younger than her actual age, and tends to get easily frustrated or angry/scared, such as when someone tries to move her things, when a ride stops working, or when someone points out she has to pay for sunglasses (which she wears almost all the time) and chips.

She also gets really absorbed in movies and music and is fluent in both English and Spanish. These are all common strengths and fascinations.

And most of all is her special connection with Xavier. They’re able to empathize with and understand each other, since they both have mental problems and they’re on the run. They get really close to each other. It’s pretty common for a lot of autistic kids to bond easier with older people than their peers. When Logan is able to warm up to Laura and gets closer to her, she grows to love him as her own father.

For a moment, I was a little concerned that maybe most of this behaviour was just because of her horrible upbringing, but when we’re introduced to the other children who were experimented on, she doesn’t quite behave like them. They all have perfect speech and can interact with others like common kids. Laura is noticeably different from the rest of them. So I think Laura is purposefully meant to stand out, and I see it as her being autistic.

I heard the director of Logan wants to make an X-23 movie, and I hope he does. This character is really great and the idea of an autistic/neurodivergent-coded character becoming the hero of her own movie could do a world of wonders. At any rate, I look forward to seeing more of this character and the future of this franchise.

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Beauty and the Beast 2017 Review

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Warning: spoilers.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: this is not as good as the original. As a movie on its own right, it got a mixed reception. People seem to either absolutely love or absolutely hate this movie. I was fully prepared to hate it myself…but I actually kind of liked it. I thought it was quite well made.

Now, I think the thing that really divides people on this movie is the portrayal of the classic characters. Personally, I really enjoyed most of them…but had one major exception.

Luke Evans as Gaston and Josh Gad as Lefou were great. Gaston is a truly chilling antagonist, and Lefou is funny and also a lot more layered. I like how in this version Lefou obviously loves Gaston, but eventually realizes that he needs to leave him. I think he needed a better conclusion (saying sorry to Belle and actually getting to kiss a man rather than just dance with one for two seconds), but overall, I think Lefou’s character was an improvement. I found myself dancing in my seat during the “Gaston” song, and engrossed at the Mob Song.

The household objects were also surprisingly good. Some of the character designs don’t work (the wardrobe and piano just look creepy), but they did manage to come to life better than I thought they would. I really did feel for them and actually got teary-eyed over them at some points. I just wish they didn’t look so realistic.

And I got to say, the hate for Emma Watson is so overblown. Yes, I hate what she did to the iconic yellow dress and some of her attitudes toward making this film, but the whole claim on how she’s cold and emotionless in the movie is uncalled for. She does emote. She does care. And I actually did like some of the changes she made to this character. I like how she’s a bit more proactive and practical, but still maintains her love of books and her family. Honestly, I kind of saw myself in Belle a lot. I feel like, if I was in her situation, I would behave exactly like she would.

So no, Emma Watson as Belle is not the problem with the movie. No, the major problem is actually THE BEAST.

Now, Dan Stevens did a good job (with what he’s given) and I’m not expecting his new design to perfectly mimic the original. But even with the new design, it does not look right. There are a lot of scenes where he looks fake as hell. The CGI gets very conspicuous, especially when he moves. He’s not very expressive, and whenever he does get to emote, he looks very creepy. Like something’s wrong. I can safely say while I may have been harsh on the household objects before, the design of the Beast is extremely uncanny valley for me. Honestly, I would have just given him makeup and prosthetics.

But what’s even worse is that a lot of the humanity the original Beast had is gone here. In the original movie, when he acts like an asshole, we see him visibly feel sorry. We get to sympathize with him in his darkest moments; when he imprisons Belle, we see that he feels bad and lets her stay in a nicer room. When Belle rejects him at first, we get to see him upset. When he chases Belle out of his room, he looks very ashamed before going to save her. He looks overjoyed when he gets closer to Belle, and when he has to let Belle go, he’s heartbroken, but brave, choking back his tears and stroking Belle’s hair as he gives her her freedom.

In the remake, though? Nope, that’s all gone! And when he and Belle have romantic moments it feels rushed, not letting them have enough time to develop real chemistry and attraction to each other. In the original, I know that Belle fell for him because he was revealed to have a soul. In this film? He’s cold and distant, really reserved. So he did not work. But the rest of the movie did, for the most part.

I’m not sure if the other remakes are going to work (there’s a whopping 19 planned so far, who knows how many will actually see the light of day), but I’m glad that this didn’t disappoint me too badly or ruin the original for me.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Writing an Autistic Character

In a world where autism is often portrayed in a negative light in media, a lot of people (myself included) create autistic headcanons to give to popular, positive characters who exhibit some characteristics of autism without being overly stereotypical. Yet canonically confirmed autistic characters do exist.

Here’s a (possibly incomplete) list. What really sticks out to me right away is that almost all of them are white men.  One of the biggest problems of autism in the media is that it’s portrayed almost exclusively as a white male thing. This results in autistic girls and boys of colour getting misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all, and raises stereotypes.

Some of the portrayals vary widely. Sheldon Cooper is a stereotype and his autism is often treated as a joke, so that’s not good (and his show is extremely unpopular, so that doesn’t help). Gil Grissom (from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation) is brilliant. He’s smart, a competent leader, is able to look at things from a unique point of view, is shown to be capable of loving others, is a hero, and is a multifaceted, layer character. When I read that he was on the list I was so happy.

When I saw Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) on the list, I was surprised, but then I realized it did make sense. That said, his character can be a huge asshole (there have been a lot of instances of him being a shitty husband to Sue), so, not the best representation.

Two literary characters that are autistic include Christopher Boone (from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a book I read for school), and Jacob Hunt (from House Rules). Christopher Boone is very stereotypical (if you find a find a checklist of autistic characteristics he fits every box), and his parents treat him like shit (they lie to him and tell them to his face that he’s driving them to an early grave), BUT I ultimately did feel for him, and I liked how the story was told exclusively from his point of view. I consider it a mixed bag. On the other hand, I could not get past the first chapter of House Rules because Jacob is 18 but treated like a child. No thank you.

But two characters that I want to bring to attention are Symmetra (from Overwatch) and Peridot (from Steven Universe). These characters matter to me because they’re both women/female-aligned (like me) and from series that are the most popular at the moment.

Symmetra is canonically autistic, and Peridot is very strongly implied to be so. There is an entire tag dedicated to Peridot being autistic. Some of the evidence of Peridot being autistic is her lack of social skills/inability to understand social cues, hyper focus, is easily frustrated, uses comfort objects, can be abrasive, needs a routine, etc. At first, she was a likable character! She was funny, she was unique, and a great foil to the crystal gems. What happened?

The show infantalized her.

Ever since season 3, she’s been described as a ‘gremlin’. She has been behaving more and more childlike, always shouting, always running around doing weird shit, not being allowed to show her technical skills. What’s worse, she’s had her comfort items broken (her recorder) or threatened to be broken (her tablet), there was one point where she was put on a leash, and in a deleted scene Amethyst tried to show her how to eat by putting her in a fucking high chair. Ultimately everything that made Peridot interesting is gone.

By contrast, we have Symmetra, a canonically autistic character who is not infantalized or treated like shit at all. She’s beautiful, talented, and capable. She’s allowed to be a hero. She has a desire to do the right thing, even if she’s doing it the wrong way (but is starting to realize something’s up). We can tell she’s autistic (the need for order and routine, black and white morality, special interest, smart but not very social) without relying too much on stereotypes. She’s a breath of fresh air.

Basically, if you’re going to create an autistic character, 1) don’t base them off stereotypes, 2) don’t overly infantalize them (having some childlike quirks and interests is okay, but constantly behaving like a toddler is not), 3) don’t have them seen as a joke or constantly treated like shit by the narrative or other characters, 4) let them be heroes and have them save the day, portraying their unique ability and worldview in a good light, and 5) try to make them something other than a white man.

Basically, WRITE US AS PEOPLE! And if you’re still having difficulty, research and ask people on the autism spectrum for help. I’d be more than happy to help. (You can look up some traits of autistic people HERE.)

Also, if you’ve seen, read, or played any of the media featuring canonically autistic characters, let me know of how you think they’re portrayed, and if it’s positive, I’ll be sure to check it out! In the meantime, I’ll make more posts on autistic headcanons to give visibility to characters who have characteristics of autism that are ultimately positive potential portrayals.

The Fall of Steven Universe and Voltron

While I initially felt alone in being critical of the show Voltron, I may have been vindicated. Because fans are starting to turn on the show.

What happened? Allura.

Before the major controversy happened, a lot of people were starting to point out that, for a character who’s coded as black (dark skin and voiced by a black actress), she didn’t really look black.

Picture an African American (or look them up on Google images). What do they typically have in common? Full lips and big, wide noses. You’re hard pressed to find an African American woman with a tiny, upturned nose. And of course they have a wider range of hair styles, too. This is what Allura looks like.

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Note how she has none of those features that are common with black women. It just looks boring and generic. A lot of people pointed it out (and made some awesome edits and redesigns), but things just got worse.

If you watch the show, you might be given the impression that Allura is an adult, given how mature she is (by her looks and personality). She’s actually a teenager.

So…you can’t have the black teenager look and act like a black teenager. All the other teenagers look and act their age, but suddenly, the black girl has to look and act like an adult. Given how black children and teens are perceived to be older (and more violent and scary) than they actually are and therefore less innocent, this is…not a good implication.

What’s worse is that now that Allura is a teen, the possibility of an Keith/Allura/Lotor is very high (since it happened in the original show). You know, Keith, the guy with more chemistry with men and absolutely zero with her until the very tail end of season 2. The guy a lot of people have been hoping to be gay (and be in a relationship with Lance). Nope, can’t have any explicit LGBT characters! Can’t let Allura be with a character she actually has chemistry with (Shiro)!

Trust me, I’m not exaggerating or alone in this. A LOT of people are upset by this, especially black fans. That’s not very good.

So wow. That show got spurred very quick! Which reminds me of another show that’s going downhill: Steven Universe. You can find a lot of info on why this show has gotten so hated recently (just check the “su critical” tag on Tumblr), but basically, the show has been nothing but endless filler and cop out, horrible animation (the characters have consistently gone off model and fat characters have been slimmed down), bad characterization, and unfortunate implications (apparently you’re just as bad as your oppressors or abusers if you fight back against them, and the 14 year old is never wrong).

What the fuck happened? How did these two shows that started off with so much promise go downhill so quickly?

Well, for Steven Universe’s case, it was a myriad of reasons. Like, Rebecca Sugar has a lot of cool ideas and an earnest interest in telling a good, diverse story, but she’s hampered by bad writers and storyboard artists that don’t properly communicate (Lauren Zuke tried to force in a Lapis Lazuli and Peridot romance, and the lead writers, Matt Burnett and Ben Levin, don’t exactly have the best resume if you look them up on IMDb), an over-reliance on filler to stall time for her to get the story figured out, and terrible executives at Cartoon Network that will fuck with the show’s airings. And also, I know this is a conspiracy theory, but I feel that once the show got brownie points for being diverse, the crew stopped giving a shit. They figured they could ride the success of the praise to stay relevant, but people have started to point out the flaws (again, check out the su critical tag, but once you make an episode about a fucking human zoo you’re in deep shit). I just hope the show manages to end on a high note because at this rate I don’t think it’s going to last much longer given the ratings.

I think a similar thing happened for Voltron. I mean it did try to be diverse (none of the Paladins are white men) but it kind of failed (Hunk’s character is nothing but food and fat jokes, no one can agree on Pidge’s gender, and we discussed the problems with Allura). And honestly, I don’t think it’s as well-written as the previous shows Joaquim Dos Santos and Lauren Montgomery worked on (Avatar: The Last Airbender and Justice League: Unlimited).

I guess, ultimately, this is cautionary tale of not being fully committed to diversity or consistent quality writing, and how it can turn off fans completely. So, if you’re an aspiring writer and creator, look at the criticisms these shows get so you can avoid them yourself, make sure you get in with a good network, and make sure you have qualified (and diverse!) staff. Then you can create a show that will be loved for a long time.

In the meantime, let’s hope these two shows improve. I would rather they die heroes than live long enough to see themselves become the villain.