Autistic people on TV are often white men - The Outsider is different
February 10, 2020 8:01 AM   Subscribe

In The Outsider, Cynthia Erivo plays Holly Gibney, a strange and gentle private investigator "As an autistic woman, I found Holly’s mere existence on-screen to be more than I had expected. While she isn’t explicitly given an autism diagnosis, her mannerisms, speech patterns and highly specific skills are suggestive. There are so few of us in the public consciousness. I undeniably love the character; I’ve always had a soft spot for characters who are strange but talented."

"The eccentric, hyper-talented detective is common in popular culture. He — the character is almost always a white, decidedly heterosexual he — is awkward, unintentionally or intentionally off-putting, and frequently rude. He is also completely brilliant and has a savant-like skill, to the point that people will disregard his many oddities and faults. They must make room for him. Some even grow to love and admire him."

Holly "is more than her skills, as fantastic as they are. She has a rich inner life that the show depicts beautifully and that I am deeply appreciative of."

Cynthia Erivo and the series creators analyzing the Holly character.
posted by shoesietart (10 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like a fantastic show.

Holly Gibney reminds me of Saga Norén from the Bridge who is a detective on the spectrum.
posted by Harpocrates at 8:52 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]

Oh, I'm fascinated--I'll have to give that a look!

I'm in the middle of reading another extraordinarily clearly neurodiverse (probably autistic) character who doesn't fit the "eccentric, rude, hyper-talented white straight man" stereotype at all, either--someone recommended KJ Charles to me in the wake of the RWAgate debacle, and I picked up An Unseen Attraction and blinked in delighted astonishment. One of the main characters reminds me incredibly strongly of a good friend of mine: firmly believing in the good intentions of everyone else, a little bit easily taken in by strong pushing from other people, overwhelmed by specific things, a touch forgetful but very, very good at coming up with insights at right angles to everyone else, and very easily overlooked to boot.

There's so many ways that autistic people appear in real life, and one of the really frustrating things about looking for autistic characters in fiction is that often you either get writers who have carefully observed a lot of people around them and have accidentally created an autistic character without the knowledge of what the inner experience is that causes those patterns, or else (more commonly) you get writers who swallow the DSM and/or a list of stereotypes based on white straight male etc. highly privileged people (or worse, their parents) and assume that's what autism Is.

This book is standing out to me because here Charles seems to have known and observed a lot of autistic people, and known them, and created a character spun out of those observations--so that the character is a person, and his context and life informs the way he is quite strongly while not defining him. The autism is incredibly clear and much more internally consistent than someone who is just observing people around them can put together, but it's also not being depicted at the expense of the character's humanity and sense of being an individual person. It's really quite nice, and as a bonus the character in question is both biracial and queer, which is really very refreshing indeed.
posted by sciatrix at 9:06 AM on February 10 [11 favorites]

There's a female autistic character in Josh Thomas's new show Everything's Gonna Be Okay, played by an autistic actor.
posted by Automocar at 9:13 AM on February 10 [4 favorites]

(not to derail, but following KJ Charles on social media is also good for the soul.)
posted by mittens at 10:03 AM on February 10 [2 favorites]

We're talking about The Outsider on FanFare!
posted by jazon at 11:08 AM on February 10 [5 favorites]

Gosh I've really enjoyed this show, and enjoyed the way that Holly is portrayed. She even is show seeking out personal relationships and romantic comfort, which completely flips the standard autistic narrative on its head.
posted by FirstMateKate at 11:36 AM on February 10

I like the surprise relationship she gets into. I like how it was handled in several ways. Have a feeling it won't end well... but, Stephen King.

Plus, it's remarkable how much this show doesn't want you to know it's a Stephen King story! The first two episodes were essentially a less machismo/drunken True Detective, down to the aerial interstitial shots of bleak, desaturated landscapes. Overall, I'm not crazy about the series so far. But it's enjoyable. And yes, Holly is a welcome character for me on teevee.
posted by SoberHighland at 2:44 PM on February 10

Plus, it's remarkable how much this show doesn't want you to know it's a Stephen King story!

Uh, I honestly couldn't think of anything besides adding "By Stephan King!" to the title that would make this less Stephen King. I guess there are less children protagonists than some of his stories, but that's about it.
posted by sideshow at 6:15 PM on February 10

The first two episodes were essentially a less machismo/drunken True Detective, down to the aerial interstitial shots of bleak, desaturated landscapes.

The first two episodes are essentially the first 10 minutes of almost any X-Files episode where the hapless victims encounter the alien/monster of the week/genetically engineered bees. Then Mulder and Scully/Holly shows up and the show really gets started.
posted by Gyre,Gimble,Wabe, Esq. at 6:19 PM on February 10

Oh, I'm suddenly much more interested in this show, now.

I did see a movie (at a festival - no American release yet but I certainly hope they do), "Sea Fever", where the main character is a woman who is absolutely written as neuro-atypical. Not necessariliy a great depiction, but still better than most.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:55 AM on February 11

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