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03:05, 02/04/2021

The director và star of a new low-budget film discuss their hopes of changing the narrative of how autism is represented in media


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When Rachel Israel mix out to lớn make a feature film based on a longtime friover, who has autism, và his first serious romance, casting the lead role was easy. The only person she could imagine playing her frikết thúc, Brandon Polansky, was himself.

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Casting a woman lớn play his love sầu interest, though, proved a much greater challenge. Israel auditioned roughly 100 professional actors, but nobody fit until Israel shifted tactics & cast a co-star who was also on the spectrum. Israel cast two more actors with autism in supporting roles & worked with all four of them until she had something truly chất lượng – a story in which the characters with autism drive all the action.


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The result is Keep the Change, a film that steps confidently into ongoing conversations about the merits of authentic casting và pop culture portrayals of people with autism. TV has recently given us a bumper crop with Atypical, a Netflix creation, and The A Word, on the Đài truyền hình BBC, following young people with autism, và ABC’s The Good Doctor telling the story of an adult savant.

But while most shows like these have relied on non-autistic actors và dwelled on how people who have autism interact with those who don’t, Keep the Change does something different. Instead, the film revolves around the story of David (Polansky), who meets Sarah (Samantha Elisofon) at a tư vấn group for adults on the spectrum và starts up a romance; meanwhile, caretakers, teachers, cab drivers, pedestrians and merry-go-round passengers bob in and out of the story without ever commanding its focus.


The script was born out of years of interviews và improvisation with Polansky & the other main actors. “Authentic casting was a huge controlling factor in how the film came out,” Israel said. “I’m not an expert on autism, so my way inkhổng lồ the story was knowing this cast và keeping them involved from the beginning.”

She continued: “I didn’t trust myself to go off & write something without the involvement of the cast. I don’t think it would have sầu been good or felt real.”

Israel departs from stories about autism that redound with questions about how their family members can forge a stronger connection.

“One thing you’ll see across a lot of representations is that even if, within the story, the highest stakes are with the character who has autism, it’s very often not framed as that person’s story,” Israel said. “It becomes about the brother of the parents or some other character who is the caretaker.”

Even in cases where the main character has autism, she added, those stories often take as their central conflict that person’s attempts to fit inkhổng lồ the larger world. “To me, then, it frequently becomes a comparison,” she said. “This is what people with autism look like, và here’s how they differ from people who don’t.”

Keep the Change breaks with stories that have treated autism itself as a barrier to lớn deep relationships. While David & Sarah differ in their abilities to gel with the broader world – hyên ổn with his unfiltered jokes, her struggles with abstract language – it’s their choices about how khổng lồ navigate the world và each other that ultimately threaten their new romance.

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Brandon Polansky và Samantha Elisofon in Keep the Change. Photograph: Kino LorberThe film also premieres amid discussions about whether diverse storytelling necessitates more diverse casting. While characters with autism are not uncomtháng today, casting actors with autism to play them is. It wasn’t until four years after its first performance that The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a play framed through the mind of a boy with autism, featured an actor with autism in the lead role. Atypical, which cast an actor who doesn’t have autism as its star, faced criticism for passing up a similar opportunity.

For Israel, anchoring the film with four actors with autism meant an opportunity khổng lồ show how diverse the spectrum really is – movies tend khổng lồ favor depictions in which autism coincides with extraordinary abilities. Polansky himself hoped the performances would a break from stereotypes of people with autism as affectless and having simplistic personal connections. “It’s supposed to change the way we look at people on the autism spectrum – these awful pictures of autism as if we’re a bunch of mutants,” he said.

Polansky imbued David with some of his own experiences. A vocal tic that usually makes him sheepish became a fixture in the film. “It would be, ‘Cut! Do it again a little bit louder, scare more kids,’” he laughed.

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Polanksy’s involvement also meant that the film’s meditations on autism, its challenges và its stigma are largely refracted through the people who live with it. In one of his character’s low moments, for instance, Polanksy unleashes a torrent of abuse on a homeless person portrayed by Israel’s husbvà. “David transparently was looking in a mirror, calling himself names, spitting in the mirror,” Polansky said. The monologue borrowed insults that have sầu been hurled at hyên in real life.

The story is based on his first serious thắm thiết relationship, which happened to lớn end shortly before filming began. “It was so painful to make something about a love story that no longer existed,” he recalled. But it was worth it, he said, “lớn paint this beautiful picture of how we really are.”

Keep the Change is now out in Thủ đô New York & will open in Los Angeles on trăng tròn April with a UK date khổng lồ be announced

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