If you pay attention to the autism news and the conversation on social media, you’ve probably seen the backlash singer and now director Sia received for her casting of a neurotypical actress (Maddie Zeigler) in the role. of non-verbal autism. girl in her new movie Music.
Sia reported, when challenged by the #ActuallyAutistic online community, that she tried to choose an actress with autism but the experience went wrong. Going back to her exact words, she said, “Putting someone at their level of functioning was cruel, not kind, so I made the executive decision that we would do our best to lovingly represent the community.”
It’s clear from Sia’s comments that her intention was to be respectful and kind, but a bad experience is a negative one for everyone involved, so let’s talk about what she could have done differently, from a professional recruiting standpoint and of the lived experience.
Best practices for Pixar models
Another filmmaker, director Erica Milsom of the movie Loop beautifully modeled how to do inclusive casting and allows marginalized people to tell their own stories and represent their own community.
Loop is an animated short film by Pixar that also features a nonverbal autistic character. Kristen lopez wrote a nice article about it in Forbes.com earlier this year in which she wrote, “In a world where disability is often presented in the simplest possible way, Loop takes the idea of miscommunication and allows audiences to tackle everything from ableism to the need for human connection, in nine minutes. In this play, she interviews Milsom about her process, and the story unfolds about how the director pushed away those who thought it would be easier to choose a neurotypical actor for the role. Producer Michael Warch said: “We were really challenged to find the vocal talent for this and were discouraged from using a real autistic person to do the vocalizations because of how difficult it was. Erica was adamant that this wasn’t something she would consider and it was very improvised because you couldn’t lead them in the traditional way. It was a really interesting process to see how we captured the vocalizations and how they were interpreted by our animators.
A commitment to inclusion
What struck me about this was that Milsom seemed to understand that there would definitely be someone from the autistic community who would be right for the role if he was willing to go find them. After all, isn’t that how the casting process works? When casting for a female character, you wouldn’t change the character to a male just because you auditioned a female or two and didn’t find the right match right away. A commitment to finding the right actor with autism was the first important step, and the second was to recognize that the process of working with them should be a little different. This is exactly how disability accommodations work and in fact many of us in the recruiting and business psychology field know exactly how to make this process work with the right safeguards and expert guidance. on how you can do them.
While we don’t know the exact details of what happened with Sia and the original autistic actress she chose, it’s possible that this actress could have performed perfectly with the right set-ups and a degree of flexibility. from his employers. .
Is this what is happening in your business? If you’ve had a bad experience trying to recruit ‘differently’, it can take you several steps in the wrong direction. It’s important to get advice on how to do it right, from people with skills in HR and business psychology, so that you can do your due diligence and avoid potential harm to vulnerable people.
Taking action is an autistic skill
Actor Mickey Rowe wrote a response to the situation in The Huffington Post this week which was rich in relevant information. Rowe was the first actor with autism to play Christopher Boone in the award-winning play The curious incident of the dog during the night. He remembers being told that the role would never suit a truly autistic actor because it was a big role with a lot of words. How incredibly insulting! He was also told that there simply weren’t any talented autistic actors there. It seems a little hard to believe when you consider people like Dan Ackroyd or Daryl Hannah, not to mention Rowe himself! The fact that Rowe continued undeterred is a testament to his resilience.
My favorite part of Rowe’s comments that I recommend reading in full is when he says, “I’m a better actor because – not despite – my autism.” People with autism use scripts every day. We use scripts for everyday situations with predictable results and we stick to those scripts. My job as an autist is to make you believe that I find words on the spot, that it’s spontaneous, the first time the conversation has taken place in my life; it’s also my job on stage as an actor.
He makes a brilliant point. The script is common among autistic people and can be transferred perfectly to the acting profession. He also points out that, since he was non-verbal in his youth, he would be able to portray a non-verbal character with more depth than someone who had not had that experience.
Reach out to the community you represent
I think the last piece of best practice worth discussing here is how to go about recruiting / recruiting marginalized groups when they aren’t just coming your way. Neurominorities often eliminate opportunities where they think they don’t have a good chance of success. After all, why waste your time interviewing endlessly for jobs that you know aren’t interested in welcoming you?
Given that the media industry has traditionally placed capable actors in roles of people with disabilities, it is no wonder that actors with disabilities feel unwelcome or unwanted. To bring us back to the Pixar movie Loop once again, director Erica Milsom set a shining example of how to reach out and find new talent. She explained, “People were worried because they hadn’t met a lot of non-verbal people in their cast before, but I was like, ‘Hey, let us do with this’ and I have to say we found it. For Madison [Bandy, who voices Renee], we basically spent less than a week after the casting call went out. I reached out to different Bay Area friends who were working with artists with disabilities and I was like, ‘We’re looking for this. Please pass it around ”and we found Madison so fast. There is a spirit, or the idea, that there is no pipeline; “There are no pipelines. We can’t find anyone. You need to create new pipelines. It’s not that hard to reach and find where people are and find talent in a community outside of your own. The tests were super fun and I was totally convinced that we would find an actress who would use vocalization more than words because I had met [them] in the disabled community and I thought “it’s everywhere”. People communicate this way for many different reasons. We just need to find a way to get into these places. We were really aware of the “Nothing About Us Without Us” movement and I was like “there’s no way I’m making a movie that doesn’t honor that”. What would be the interest? “
Creating new “pipelines” is exactly what inclusion is. When a director makes the decision to represent a marginalized group in the mainstream culture, it is their ethical responsibility to ensure that they don’t end up spreading false information or putting one-dimensional or cartoonish representations in the world. When a boss makes the decision to hire inclusively, it is their ethical responsibility to exercise due diligence and ensure that you have updated and protected your process to reduce risk for vulnerable candidates. . Being inclusive means being ready to change “the rules” and try new things. We hope the Pixar and Mickey Rowe stories inspire more people to try!
Thanks to Helen Doyle for her essential contribution to this article.