For World Autism Awareness Week, our Head of Digital and Communications, Lola Phoenix, shares what it was like to see an autistic character in the new Power Rangers film.

A movie poster with the face of the new blue power ranger, film by Lionsgate.Media representation is a double edged sword for a lot of disabled people, especially people on the autistic spectrum.

Representation in major media can sometimes help you feel like you're not alone in your experience, regardless of what that experience is. But when the majority if not all representation is stereotyped or one dimensional, it can do the opposite of helping.

Because media representation of autistic people often focuses on a very specific portrayal of autism, many autistic people like myself feel like we're now held to a standard of behaviour that is inaccurate and not true to our experience.

Our experiences as autistic people are then invalidated by allistic (non-autistic) people who believe the portrayal they have seen of autism is the only way an autistic person can be.

We're not all Rain Man. We're not all Sheldon. And not all of us experience our autism in the same way.

Needless to say, when I heard that one of the Power Rangers in the new movie was going to be on the autistic spectrum, I had my doubts. Being the nerd I am, though, I had to catch the new Power Rangers film. And on this World Autism Awareness week, I'm happy to say I was pleasantly surprised.

How he prepared for the role

Billy, the Blue Power Ranger, is played by actor RJ Cyler, who does not have autism, who told ScreenRant in an interview regarding how he prepared for the role:

"I actually sat down and shut my mouth and actually just listened and you know, accepted every bit of information with no judgement... I knew that it was my job to show, you know, that people on the spectrum are just regular people..."

Throughout the film, not only does Billy acknowledge he is on the spectrum, but you see him going through some of the struggles autistic people go through without being depicted as a tragedy or a genius or savant. He copes with bullying while having special interests. The difficulties many autistic people face in taking things literally adds to the humour of the show and we laugh with Billy rather than at Billy.

We don't just have a character that has autistic traits that autistic people can identify with, but we have a full-fledged person who is represented in a way that acknowledges both his humanity and his disability as not two separate things. As Billy says in the film, his brain just works differently to everyone else’s -- and he uses that brain to make real contributions to the team.

Portraying autistic people in film

The autistic spectrum is a wide one. Any film with an autistic character won't be able to capture the entire spectrum within one character. But what Billy offers is a real portrayal that doesn't further alienate autistic people from the world by making us into untouchable geniuses or heartless intellectuals.

It's ironic that so many autistic people like me are tired of seeing autistic characters having super intellectual powers when so many of us feel like if we're not some type of genius, we're not "useful" or "valuable" as autistic people. Billy is a superhero and he does have a talent for hacking, but that's not all he brings to the table.

RJ Cyler's fantastic portrayal can be credited to his willingness to listen to the experiences of autistic people themselves and his willingness to listen. Any other media outlets looking to add a character on the spectrum would do well to follow his suit.

Thank you RJ!

About World Autism Awareness Week