Billy Cranston and being unapologetically autistic
Billy Cranston a.k.a the Blue Ranger in the Power Rangers reboot, is one of my favorite film characters, probably of all time. Why? He is one of the first autistic characters I’ve seen on screen, books, or tv. “But, Kate what about all these autistic characters *points to BBC Sherlock and the one line about Aspergers” First of all, stop saying Sherlock’s autistic, Jenny, he’s a poor outdated stereotype in a white man’s circle jerking intellectual fantasy. But what I mean is, Billy is allowed to be autistic. And it’s portrayed pretty accurately, speaking as someone on the spectrum myself. So what’s the difference between Billy Cranston and what we’ll call “Hollywood Autism”?
First of the Hollywood Autistic never quite says they’re autistic. A few hints may be dropped, someone may wonder if they are, but if they’re in any genre that isn’t inspiration porn, it will remain up in the air. Billy says not long after we meet him, “I’m on the spectrum.” No question, no guesswork, he’s autistic. And no one really looks down on him for it.
Secondly, the Hollywood Autistic comes in two flavors: exaggerated caricature, or barely different from an allistic character. The first example is aloof, nonverbal, doesn’t get sarcasm or any jokes at all, hyperfixtates on a certain topic, and is almost always a suburban white boy. If they’re an adult, they’re basically a child in a grown man’s body. The second has one scene where they show autistic traits, and it is completely dropped after that one scene. Billy is neither of these characters. He has special interests that he focuses on (mining, art), the need for a routine (rearranging his pencils a certain way before he can use them), sensory issues (mostly with touch), he doesn’t get sarcasm, and he babbles (which could be interpreted as verbal stimming.) That last one brings us to the fact that Billy is allowed to stim! Stimming is often ignored with Hollywood Autistics, but Billy claps his hands when he gets excited, and babbles when he’s nervous. Seeing a character stim on screen without being seen as weird almost made me cry. And, to top it all off, Billy is black. This may not seem like a big deal, but autism goes underdiagnosed in minorities, and the stereotypical autistic is always a white boy. Billy’s representative of autistics as a whole, rather than the stereotypes.
In conclusion the world needs more Billy Cranstons and less Sherlocks and Sheldon Coopers.