I expect that there will be those who will disagree with my view, but that’s okay. Discussing this issue is never a negative thing. 🙂
I am mom of a teenage son with Asperger’s and Tourette Syndrome (he was diagnosed as a child). I always view any representation of autism and neurological disorders in the mainstream with interest. Recently, I came across an article from The Huffington Post, about a theatrical version of Mark Haddon’s “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” (excellent book btw), in which the lead is a young autistic actor by the name of Mickey Rowe. The idea of having an actor who can relate to the character on such a personal level is fantastic, and I wish Mickey all the success that this opportunity will bring. Check out the article where Mickey discusses his role and his view on representation.
Mickey brings out a good point in the article. Why is it not unheard of to have a non-disabled actor play someone with a disability, but you seldom hear of an actor with a disability playing a non-disabled role (Hamlet being played by an actor in a wheelchair was his example)?
Food for thought.
This brings me to the new ABC drama, The Good Doctor, which is the US version of a Korean show by the same name. Starring Freddie Highmore of Bates Motel fame, the show focuses on a young autistic man by the name of Shaun Murphy. From ABC’s official description…
“Coming MONDAYS 10|9c this Fall to ABC. Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore, Bates Motel), a young surgeon with autism and savant syndrome, relocates from a quiet country life to join a prestigious hospital’s surgical unit. Alone in the world and unable to personally connect with those around him, Shaun uses his extraordinary medical gifts to save lives and challenge the skepticism of his colleagues.”
The trailer actually shows more chops than the description, and unlike what’s said in the description, Shaun is able to connect with people in his own way (this type of description always bugs me when I hear it). The show doesn’t seem to be trying to make Shaun a “superhero”. Although talented, Shaun deals with the attitudes that many young people on the autism spectrum deal with when it comes to how others view them. Personally, I think that this show has a chance, even though Freddie is not autistic himself. From what I’ve read on social media, the Korean version was brilliant, and the US version hopes to be the same.
From my own experiences as a parent, I welcome any chance where autism is a focus. The downside, is that here is once again a situation where the role is given to someone who doesn’t have the personal experience with the disorder that his character does.
So, I have to ask, what do you think? Can a show “do justice” to areas like autism, when the lead doesn’t have it? Can Freddie’s portrayal even be compared to Mickey’s, when the two actors are coming from different directions for these roles?
It’s a tricky topic, and honestly, I don’t write-off any portrayal of this type without seeing more. I have no idea if ABC even looked for an autistic actor, or thought of Freddie right away. From the trailer, I did see aspects in his performance, that reminded me of things that I see in my own son. I am not familiar with Freddie’s other works, but he appears to approach this role with the respect that it deserves.
There will be those that will dismiss him for no other reason than the fact that he’s not autistic. I can’t blame them for that. The fact is, television and movies still don’t have the breadth of diversity that they should, whether it’s race, gender or showing areas such as autism (and I could write a much larger blog on this, but that’s not my focus). I do want to see more representation and I would like to think that, at the end of the day, we will see more actors like Mickey take on lead roles…PERIOD.
My take is that in both Mickey’s play and Freddie’s show, if people come away with a better understanding of the world of autism, and more respect and openness towards those who have it–then that’s a good thing.
And really, that’s all that this parent wants.
Text © Written In Geek blog (2017) All rights reserved
Pictures © Written In Geek blog, used with subject’s permission or under public domain (2017)- Feature image is a taken from the Huffington Post article. Official show poster image courtesy of imdb.com