On Newt Scamander And Autistic Representation
Start writing a post
Entertainment

On Newt Scamander And Autistic Representation

Newt Scamander is a hero for neurodivergent viewers -- so how come it's easier for other viewers to accept magic exists than that fact?

31135
On Newt Scamander And Autistic Representation
NJ

I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I went to go see "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them". In truth, I had accepted that the Harry Potter franchise was over years ago; I thought it seemed silly to create a whole new series within the same universe. However, when it came out I felt a bit more excited about it, and a week later I finally went with my mother to go see it.

Newt Scamander, the main character of the movie, is odd. Most people seem to agree that his first appearance is jarring. He gets off a boat in New York City and is ushered through customs, where a gruff worker begins to question him about the suitcase he had brought with him. Newt won’t meet the worker’s eyes. He’s a bit distant, voice soft and mannerisms peculiar. For a moment, I wondered how any director would possibly allow that sort of acting to pass through. But by the time the next scene rolled around, it hit me -- oh! Newt’s autistic!

Autistic representation in media is not discussed, even though it is quite a pertinent issue. When it comes to autistic characters, the only one that personally springs to mind is Raymond Babbit from the 1988 movie "Rain Man". There’s already been plenty of discourse about that movie, with the main criticism being that it relies on stereotypes, including autistic savantism, which is a rather rare occurrence.

It’s estimated that 1% of the world population has autism, which ends up being about 74,000,000 people worldwide. Despite that staggeringly large number, general education on autism is absent. Autistic people remain terrifyingly isolated, starting in childhood, where teachers lack proper training on how to help autistic students succeed to the best of their abilities and children bully them for something out of their control. Few people speak out on the abuse directed towards autistic individuals and how their autism manifests in themselves. Instead, autism is seen as behavioral issue, or a disability that causes many allistic* people to view those with it as subhuman, or as an insult (and if you’ve never seen it used as an insult, I’m so, so glad you’ve never had to experience the misery that is scrolling through a YouTube comment section).

I bring all this up only to mention that joy that I felt when I realized that Newt, whether intentionally or not, behaved very much like a person on the autism spectrum would. In a world where people are constantly punished for their autism, or tendencies from other things that might mirror autism (whether that be anxiety disorders, learning disabilities, giftedness, related conditions and disorders, or just personality quirks), it was quite refreshing to see a main character who embodied that and was not shamed for it.

I feel this is particularly highlighted near the beginning of the film, where one of the characters try to reassure Newt that someone out there probably likes him. “No, not really, I’m annoying,” Newt responds. It was a sentiment that hit me hard, a mindset that I had been stuck in since childhood after multiple kids made it very well known to me that they didn’t like my obsessive, nerdy, awkward nature, which only kept me trapped in my own bubble with very few friends. However, despite Newt saying that about himself, the other characters of the movie didn’t find him annoying or generally unlikable. They befriended him with ease. The fact that he functioned so differently didn’t push them away. Instead, it ended up drawing them together.

Leaving the theater, an image of a child like Newt going to see that movie popped into my mind. If I, a college student, could feel a bit better about myself after seeing Newt, I couldn’t imagine what Newt would do for an autistic child obsessed with animals and the Harry Potter universe.

Critics and reviews, to me at least, don’t quite understand that Newt is a champion for neurodivergent* viewers. They’re quick to blame it on bad writing or bad acting, and even quicker to accept a universe where magic and fantastic beasts are real but a person that mirrors the hallmark symptoms of autism is not. And that’s really what troubles me: if a character with a condition, disorder, or disability does not have their condition, disorder, or disability blatantly named and they’re not visibly suffering from it, they go from being an acceptable and intriguing character to a bad one. This, in turn, only reflects the fetishization of disabled and neurodivergent people in media, and reinforces the idea that people with these things are a spectacle to be observed and cured of, rather than a normal human being that has something a bit different about them. Think about it: when was the last time you saw a disabled and/or neurodivergent character that was the focus of a story that wasn’t about their condition?

Whether Newt actually has autism or some other neurodivergent condition or is just a bit peculiar, whether you love the movie or hate it, whether you love Eddie Redmayne or hate him, one thing is very clear: there needs to be more representation of people like Newt. Many people, including myself, fell in love with him instantly when they saw themselves reflected in Newt. The backlash for characters who behave oddly, when not in a charming, whimsical way, or a rogue, antisocial way, needs to end. I, for one, am quite ready for a world full of Newt Scamanders. When will everyone else be?

[rebelmouse-proxy-image https://media.rbl.ms/image?u=%2Ffiles%2F2016%2F12%2F02%2F636162383891687090-825182583_newt%2520gif.gif&ho=https%3A%2F%2Faz616578.vo.msecnd.net&s=8&h=762ee69056c8bdca3865774add386eb8d3a86e4abd800ae4ccb1deeec61e9edb&size=980x&c=3044737518 crop_info="%7B%22image%22%3A%20%22https%3A//media.rbl.ms/image%3Fu%3D%252Ffiles%252F2016%252F12%252F02%252F636162383891687090-825182583_newt%252520gif.gif%26ho%3Dhttps%253A%252F%252Faz616578.vo.msecnd.net%26s%3D8%26h%3D762ee69056c8bdca3865774add386eb8d3a86e4abd800ae4ccb1deeec61e9edb%26size%3D980x%26c%3D3044737518%22%7D" expand=1]

*Explanation on the terms "allistic" and "neurodivergent"

Report this Content
This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
How to Use Your Passion for Writing to Complete Academic Essays

Academic paper writing is often considered one of the most dreaded parts of college for students. Most people hate it, even if they are into writing in general. Many students feel like it puts them into a box where no creative expression is possible. Like having to use a more formal tone of voice and thinking about referencing restricts one’s flow of thought.

Keep Reading... Show less
Featured

How Long Would It Take To Mine A Bitcoin?

No one will give you the correct answer to this question because there are a lot of details that they need to know. But, you can roughly estimate it based on the equipment you have a few more factors. One thing that needs to be mentioned is that mining has changed a lot over the years.

55229
Mine A Bitcoin

they need to know. But, you can roughly estimate it based on the equipment you have a few more factors. One thing that needs to be mentioned is that mining has changed a lot over the years.

Keep Reading... Show less
Featured

5 Cakes You Need to Try This Winter

Spending the winter trying different cakes can be a great way to combat seasonal depression. Lift the spirits of your entire family by trying these five cakes.

55307
Try This Winter

The winter can be a dull time spent indoors with very little change. But, it doesn't have to be that way. There are plenty of ways to spice up your daily routine, and dessert is one of them.

Keep Reading... Show less
Featured

5 Reasons to Consider a Career as a Defense Lawyer

Lawyers are supposed to be unbiased. Lawyers are trained to look at both sides of an issue and give equal weight to each side. It is meant to be their mantra, "My client is innocent until proven guilty."

118872
Career as a Defense Lawyer

Lawyers are supposed to be unbiased. Lawyers are trained to look at both sides of an issue and give equal weight to each side. It is meant to be their mantra, "My client is innocent until proven guilty." But if you're thinking about becoming a defense attorney, it's not this pretty simple. Defense lawyers argue that their clients are innocent because they don't want their actions to seem suspect in any way. They essentially say for the sake of the argument itself. If you're trying to decide whether or not becoming a defense attorney is something you would like to do, here are five reasons why it's worth considering:

Keep Reading... Show less
Featured

What Everyone Should Know About Online Degrees

Nowadays, many working adults, high school graduates, and retired lifelong learners are choosing to advance their careers, lives, and personal knowledge by completing school at home.

210498
Online Degrees

The rising popularity of online college and graduate school degrees has completely changed the face of education and student life. It's no longer necessary to pack up all your belongings and head off to a distant locale in order to earn a diploma. Nowadays, many working adults, high school graduates, and retired lifelong learners are choosing to advance their careers, lives, and personal knowledge by completing school at home.

Keep Reading... Show less
Facebook Comments