At the suggestion of a lovely person over at the Secret Leepover Society discord (watch the streams on twitch and join. Itsa lots of fun. If you like seeing cute people being cute, you’ll like Jacob and Julia), who asked me for my further opinion on autistic coded Newt in the Fantastic Beasts franchise.
Disclaimer: I don’t have the diagnosis of being on the austism spectrum. I never got properly tested. I do have some behaviorisms in common and it does affect my life in a way, but I don’t have the authority to speak as an autistic person, in my opinion. That being said, I am mentally ill, so I’m approaching this prompt from that angle.
I commented about Newt being autistic coded shortly in my review (read: rant) on the Crimes of Grindelwald. I said I appreciated to see someone who behaved a bit like myself and still functionned rather successfully in society.
I was asked how I felt about a neurotypical actor playing a neurotatypical character.
Mental illness is a tricky subject.
I honestly feel that not every aspect of a character has to be 100% authentic. I’m not talking about race or gender, obviously. To cast a white actor for an Asian role (Scarlett Johanson) or a cis woman as a trans man (Scarlett Johanson) is, to say the least, a Choice.
With neuroatypical characters, it’s a tricky thing to judge in absolutes, in my opinion, because a lot of the time mental illness invisible. Who’s to say what actor does or doesn’t have a condition, when it’s equally as possible that they do, but are dealing with it properly?
If that is the case, they’re not obligated to make that public, but they’d still have the knowledge to portray their character.
That’s not to say how I have a huge problem with how mental illness is often portrayed in Hollywood.
Little side rant incoming:
Hollywood likes to jack off to mental illness because it’s oscar bait. I truly honestly dislike movies with mental ilness as the plot because a) usually it focusses on the neurotypical protagonist anyway and how haaard it is for them to deal with a mentally ill person until finally they understand and accept and b) the mentally ill character is either portrayed as super clueless and how wondrous is life when you’re not thinking normally.
It sucks to see people’s actual struggle be portrayed as a goddamn field trip and the actors getting praised for doing the absolute least. And everyone neurotypical who watched it can pat themselves on the back because of how raw and real they thought it was, and then call their coworker who can’t make eyecontact a retard.
I will always rather see people live with mental illness than struggle (not because the struggle is unimportant, but because, to me, I need to see that it’s not it doesn’t have to take over your entire being).
Side rant over.
Whether I’m okay with a neurotypical actor playing neuroatypical characters, is honestly a gut feeling and how that characteristic is handled and talked about outside of the movie. I don’t mind Eddie Redmayne playing Newt because it wasn’t made a big deal out of but was still awknowledged.
There weren’t articles upon articles of wanking the movie off because they included a mentally ill character. You remember that Beauty & the Beast debacle with Lefou? I swear, it would’ve been half the issue if Lefou being gay hadn’t been treated like a Big Breakthrough for the LGBTQ community.
Another reason why I don’t mind is because I doubt that Newt was written with the specific intent of being autistic. Again, this is a gut feeling I have. Mostly because I don’t think Rowling would think of it.
I think Newt was written to be quirky and awkward. It’s still autism coded. And if someone working on the film (whether it was the director or the actor) wouldn’t have made it less ambiguously portrayed in the movie itself and then awknowledged it, it would’ve just pissed me off.
Just like Sheldon “I don’t have Aspergers, my mom had me tested, but let’s rudicule most of the symptoms of Aspergers” from the Big Bang Theory pisses me off.
So, in short:
Again this is my personal opinion on the specific portrayal of this specific character. This isn’t a rule for me. Most issues I have with mental illness in media is how it’s often portrayed as frivoulous and quirky (hard stare at Suicide Squad).
If you have different opinons on this, hit me up. I’m not all knowing and it is very possible I haven’t considered a number of things