Written by: Josh Camputaro
In spite of the recent controversies about ill-informed representations of autism in the media, there is a new film I’d like to highlight as a possible progressive way forward.
The Reason I Jump, an adaptation of Naoki Higashida’s book of the same name, is a creative documentary film following the story of five different non-vocal individuals with autism from around the world. This is a welcome departure from the current trend of creating single larger-than-life autistic personae for the big screen. Rather, The Reason I Jump respects the diversity of the autistic spectrum while focusing on non-vocal autist individuals, one of the most stigmatized groups in our community.
When I first heard about the film, I had high hopes. Fortunately, the film meets many of them. For one, the film does not paint autism in an idyllic light; it stays true to the difficulties some individuals with autism face. There are on screen videos of meltdowns, as well as honest, difficult discussions within the autists’ families. These struggles are real for many people on the spectrum, and though a neurotypical individual may not be able to fully relate to these elements of the film, acknowledging these issues is an important step to understanding.
The film also fights stereotypes and stigmas surrounding autism and non-vocal autists through the individuals’ stories, which emphasize their humanity. From Amrit’s art at the start of the film to Jestina’s culture’s view of autism at the end, the film addresses, refutes, and disproves stigmas and misunderstandings of our community not by lecture, but by example.
There were some concerns I had while watching the film. For one, the film is quite loud and flashy at some points, which might be disturbing to some sensory sensitive viewers with autism. However, as the film aims to bring a neurotypical person into our world, these design choices make sense.
I also did not know who was playing the onscreen “Naoki Higashida” character throughout the narration, and I feared a neurotypical actor might be playing this autistc role. However, I subsequently learned that this actor also has non-vocal autism, and the decision to cast an actor on the spectrum in this role shows a great sensitivity to the concerns of our community’s representation.
After watching this film, I am hopeful that it may inspire future works led by autistic creators. In addition, rather than misguided films like Sia’s Music and its depiction of a condensed, stereotyped autistic character, we need more movies that show the range of experiences among neurodiverse people. We have many stories and ideas ready to share; all we need is a place and time to share them. Autism need not be the focus of a film featuring characters on the spectrum. After all, it is simply one part of an individual’s humanity, not one’s enemy that the film needs the hero to overcome.