After Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them came out, a good number or people looked at how Newt talked and acted and started to believe that he was autistic. It’ssomething that many people seem to be discussing and enjoying as a headcanon, andthat’s great. But if Newt isreally autistic in the movie, is he good representation, and how would this expansion of the Harry Potter world deal with an autistic character?
I’m not going to lie, I struggled with what to write about today. As someone already dealing with depression, this week has been extremely trying as I worry about myself and many of my friends and family. And I will not lie that as a white woman, I am utterly enraged by the actions of my fellow white women this election. While I always knew that all white women (I do not exclude myself from this) have issues with racism, due to our privilege, I guess I never realized how bad it was. So today I want to write about some amazing female characters of color from my favorite podcast Welcome to Night Vale, and some of the amazing women of color who have been elected to office and give us hope.
A couple moments ago, I was finally able to listen to the season finale of the podcast Alice Isn’t Dead. We have already discussed how much we love this podcast, but now, I want to specifically talk about how it portrays disability. Usually stories show someone’s disability as a weakness they need to overcome in order to be “real heroes”, or they are portrayed as gaining extra supernatural abilities that more than “makes up” for their disability. But Alice Isn’t Dead did something wholly different: the podcast showed how someone can use their disability to help them get through a situation.
Major spoilers for Alice Isn’t Dead and a trigger warning for anxiety & panic attacks after the jump.
An imperfect God is easier to believe in. Just as a mystical pregnancy that doesn’t result in special children (because statistically, so few people are likely to become Great; why should children of mystical pregnancies be any different from typical humans?), and the death of a son of god being much more personal than a momentous world-saving act is easier to believe in.
However, there are a few canonical instances where wizards do actually practice (Christian) religion in the series. St. Mungo’s, the wizarding hospital, is actually named for a real saint. St. Mungo, also known as St. Kentigern, was a Christian missionary who performed miracles and founded the city of Glasgow. The Fat Friar is the ghost of Hufflepuff House and was a monk in his former life.
A couple days ago I posted an In Brightest Day about how pop culture likes to present mental hospitals as horrible, abusive institutions. Very rarely do I ever see them represented in a positive light, and I think there’s a reason for that. It’s easy to demonize mental hospitals for the sake of horror, and since mental hospitals have a bad reputation in the public consciousness, that horror can sink deep. After all, what’s scarier than a place that can hurt you under the false pretense of healing? Especially when no one else will believe anything you say because they also think you’re insane?
This idea, presented over and over again, discourages people with actual mental disorders from seeking help, and even more upsetting, many of these narratives are not even about people with mental disabilities. While this isn’t true for all of these stories—the villains in Batman do need help, and Niki from Heroes suffered from dissociative identity disorder—it’s certainly true for enough of them. Refusing to give the titular characters mental disabilities increases the horror aspect of mental hospitals. After all, it’s bad enough these hospitals can hurt you and no one will believe anything you say, but what if you don’t even belong there? What if you’re institutionalized against your will? Or for the wrong reasons? As such, the characters who actually are mentally disabled end up being erased from their own narrative.
Last time I discussed how often characters with disabilities are cured of their disability. Today I will discuss a similar problem: the lack of characters born with disabilities. I first noticed this problem when watching Season 3A of Teen Wolf. Deucalion became one of my favorite characters when he first showed up as a badass blind villain. I loved him. But then I saw the flashback episode of Teen Wolf, “Visionary”. I was shocked to discover that Deucalion was only blind because Gerard had stabbed his eyes out. I was disappointed because I had been imagining Deucalion as being blind from birth, and while I have many other problems with how Deucalion’s character was handled, you’d think not being born blind wouldn’t be such a big deal. But this minor point nagged at me, and I started thinking about characters with disabilities. I realized that almost all of them have some traumatic event happen to them that leads to them being disabled.
Professor X, Oracle, Bobby Singer, Daredevil, Hiccup, Bran Stark, Jaime Lannister, and many more characters all become disabled after some tragic event and/or an occasionally heroic event. And while having characters who become disabled is important representation, especially for people who have become disabled themselves, having so few characters who are born with disabilities is a major problem. It also says something about how our society views people with disabilities.
If you have seen “Breezy,” the most recent episode of Adventure Time, then you will know that something really awful happened. That’s right—Finn grew his arm back. Just grew it back. And maybe I would be less annoyed if 1) I didn’t expect better of Adventure Time, and 2) this wasn’t symptomatic of a bigger problem. “Curing” disabled characters is one of those things that happens a lot in genre fiction and it sends an awful message.