Ben Affleck’s The Accountant is Only Authentic to Autistics in the Minds of Non-Disabled People
There is no way to accurately play an autistic character if you are not autistic yourself. This is actually true for disabilities, in general. I know that many nondisabled people will disagree with me, and even some disabled people. The disability community has long made excuses for cripping up, when nondisabled people pretend to be disabled as a part of the character they are playing in some form of media. Sadly, this is because the disability community is so desperate for representation that some people are willing to look past these harmful portrayals. It also helps that the average person, disabled or not, has no clear understanding of how significantly media representation can impact our lives.
That being said, when I heard that Ben Affleck was going to play an autistic person in his new film, The Accountant, I knew that it was going to be harmful. You see, not only are disabled people not allowed to portray disabled characters in media over 90% of the time, we are also not included in the creation process. When we are supposedly included, this involves talking to parents, relatives, organizations supposedly catering to our population, and not to actually disabled people themselves. In the rare event we are consulted, usually it is done just to observe our behaviors, not to actually talk about what makes us disabled.
This is close to what happened with The Accountant. The director, Gavin O’Connor, and Ben Affleck, did say they did observe and ask questions of actually neurodivergent adults, but most everything they have quoted, which they insist helps to make the film more realistic, they have attributed to specialists and others who are not autistic. The primary people they consulted were actually parents of autistics, and Autism Speaks.
If they knew anything about the autistic community, they would know that Autism Speaks has widely been condemned by actually autistic people. Also, while family can be great, parents of autistics can often be the most oppressive and least understanding people in an autistic person’s life. Sure, many parents may have good intentions, but if you speak to the majority autistic people they will heavily disagree with the notion that their parents know more about being autistic than they do.
Affleck himself has discussed how he “observed” actually autistic people so he could learn to emulate their behavior. Again, his idea of disability reinforces the misconception that autistics are the way they are because of specific behaviors. They are not a checklist of symptoms. Autistics are complex human beings. In their insistence to claim The Accountant is the “most realistic portrayal of autism” ever created, they ignore the fact that actually autistic people were not involved in the actual creative process. They were not actors, writers, producers. Once again The Accountant is another film that is about us, without us. This is common for films about disability and it is unacceptable.
Kim Sauders, a disabled writer and activist who is autistic, wrote a spoiler-filled review of the film, and like other autistic people she was very offended by it. I don’t know a single autistic person who did not find The Accountant harmful. The caricature Affleck presents of ‘autism’ is a problem. His and O’Connor’s lack of understanding about autistic-friendly language is apparent. Many of their interviews are full of systemic ableism. If they cannot even speak correctly about being autistic, how could Ben have ever portrayed an autistic accurately?
In some interviews, O’Connor and Ben describe the character as playing someone emotionless, while other interviews they have given discuss Christian Wolff (the character Ben plays), as a person of complex emotions. Through viewing The Accountant, it does seem to rely on the emotionless stereotype about autistics, and it cannot be further from the truth. Autistic people actually tend to be overly emotional. They are often unable to respond because there is too much emotional stimulation. They are too overwhelmed to explain what is happening, make it stop, or express the need for the stimuli or themselves to be removed from the overstimulated environment.
Christian Wolff is pretty much an emotionless sociopath. He kills with ease and without hesitation. Considering how many murders have been pinned on autistics under the guise they are emotionless and do not feel anything for others, reinforcing that stereotype is a huge problem. This is not at all realistic to autistics. The idea that being autistic is a part of why he is a killer, and that he can morally decide who lives and dies without thought, is just another way to other autistic people. Additionally, despite being calculated and cold, Wolff is considered to have a heart of gold. His father trained him to be a killer, so he can “survive” in a cruel world. This is a reminder of how abusive parents can be to their autistic children, although in the film it is depicted as helping Christian to survive.
Essentially, there is absolutely nothing that is authentic about Ben Affleck cripping up as autistic assassin Christian Wolff in The Accountant. Non-autistic people will never be realistic autistics, because they can never truly understand what autism is. Disabled people have been excluded from Hollywood enough as it is. The disability community must refuse to support films like this. It is the only way we will see any change and inclusion in Hollywood.