If you’re an unwavering reader of Think Inclusive, you know that we’re “rabid inclusionists” who are all about inclusive education. But another topic we love to discuss is representation. Everything from books, to movies, to award shows: we want to see if they’re authentically representing people with disabilities.
And there’s a new show from Amazon Prime Video that’s recently caught our attention. “As We See It,” which dropped at the beginning of 2022, follows the lives of three adults on the autism spectrum as they navigate their jobs, love lives, and everything in between.
The first noticeable thing about this show that they got right was the casting. While you’d think in the 21st century that all shows that portray characters with disabilities would be played by actors with disabilities, we’ve seen that this isn’t true (see “Atypical” and “Music”). But in “As We See It,” all three of the main characters are played by autistic actors. And it’s really refreshing to see a show that stars not one, but three people with disabilities, with other disabled characters seen throughout.
But I’m worried that the proper representation starts and ends there.
While there are plenty of great reviews of the show online, many of them are from neurotypical viewers who don’t seem to notice some of the glaring issues in the show. And I think one of the glaring issues is that despite the representation, the show still feels like it was made for a neurotypical audience.
While the three main characters are on the spectrum, much of the show revolves around the lives of their caregiver and family members. There are several scenes where the autistic characters are doing something important and instead of merely showing that scene, the camera pans out to show how the neurotypical characters are reacting to that scene. And there are rarely any scenes that show the three characters interacting without any outside forces.
The way the neurotypical characters treat the autistic characters is sometimes questionable. The caregiver seems to have a savior complex and is often portrayed as some type of angel for wanting to spend her time assisting the autistic characters, even sacrificing other job opportunities and her relationship to do so. In another scene, a father calls his autistic son a “burden.” And another character is often directly attacking his autistic sister’s autonomy.
On top of all this, the overall representation of autism falls flat in many ways. Even though there are three characters, the characters seem stereotypical in ways that fail to show that it truly is a spectrum. The one character is the autistic genius who lacks empathy that we’ve seen represented on TV before. The other characters are often portrayed in a state of constant distress and always suffering in social situations, leaving very little room for happy, “normal” moments where the characters are doing well.
I do think we’re moving in the right direction. There are a lot of heart-touching moments in “As We See It” and there’s something to be said for properly casting the characters. But I think we have a long way to go. We need more disabled writers, directors, and producers at the head of these shows. We need more authentic storylines that tell the unique lived experiences of those with disabilities. We need movies that aren’t created simply for nondisabled audiences to feel inspired. We need authenticity. “As We See It” is on the right path, but it still has a way to go before it reaches that goal.
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Kayla Kingston is the Communications Specialist for MCIE. A recent graduate of the University of Dayton, she loves reading, writing, and supporting all things inclusion.