In The Politics of Autism, I discuss depictions of ASD in popular culture. A couple of years ago, Sesame Workshop introduced an autistic character online. Next month, Julia will be on the television program.
Just as “Sesame Street” announced Julia’s debut, the makers of the new “Power Rangers” movie, released last Friday, announced that Billy, the blue ranger, is on the autism spectrum. They have not released further details about what traits the character possesses, although one Vox review notes that Billy has trouble reading people’s emotions and doesn’t get his fellow Rangers’ jokes.
John Matthias, of Roseville, said he looks forward to taking his 15-year-old autistic son Wesley to see the film. In particular, he’s curious to see if Wesley, who has trouble forming full sentences but loves going to the movies, will connect with the autistic character.
Matthias hopes the film will at least help stop the bullying that many autistic teenagers experience. About 63 percent of students on the autism spectrum experience bullying at some point, according to a 2014 study from the Interactive Autism Network.
When most people think of autism in popular culture, they still remember the 1988 film “Rain Man,” said Jack Gallagher, a Sacramento actor and playwright whose 21-year-old son, Liam, has autism. The iconic Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman film, which won the Academy Award for best picture, helped raise awareness about autism, he said, but it was also misleading.
“If I were portraying someone on the spectrum, I would portray them as a normal person with some quirky social issues, and not as someone who can count every toothpick on the floor or tell you every president’s middle name,” Gallagher said, referring to a scene from the film. “For a long time there were a lot of stereotypical qualities that were given to folks on the spectrum, and now people understand that’s not true. I hope these characterizations are more accurate than they used to be.”