When his autistic son, Nate, was growing up, Josh Sapan always took him to the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, where the video game exhibits helped Nate connect with the world.
Those experiences inspired Sapan, a museum administrator, to help create a program that would recognize not only the important role moving images can play in the lives of people on the autism spectrum, but also people on the spectrum who create those images. to emphasize.
“I was just thinking, wouldn’t it be great if there was some recognition for the work being done by people on the autistic spectrum?” said Sapan, the executive vice chairman of AMC Networks. “In its magnificence, it could also boost funding and education and awareness.”
The result is Marvels of Media, an exhibition, awards ceremony and festival that opens on March 31 and celebrates media makers on the autism spectrum.
“We shed light on something that already exists and then help amplify it,” said Carl Goodman, the museum’s director. “Innovation in the creative arts often comes from those who cognitively bring something unique to the table.
He added that the museum seeks to recognize “how those who don’t necessarily live up to cultural norms can ultimately play a role in some of the more culturally significant artistic works of our time.”
Dena L. Gassner, a member of the Interagency Coordination Committee on Autism within the Department of Health and Human Services, served on the museum’s advisory committee. She said some people on the spectrum react to the rhythmic nature of moving images, especially those that they can watch over and over. “They like the familiarity and the predictability; There’s a pattern to that,” says Gassner, who is on the spectrum, as is her son.
Twenty media works were selected for awards from more than 3,000 nominations from 117 countries. The 12 award categories include animated shorts, digital art, documentaries, narrative features, and video games.
The pieces selected range from DIY projects to projects made with large production budgets.
“The message behind the show is self-help,” said Sara Guerrero-Mostafa, the museum’s deputy director of education and community engagement, who organized the effort with two other contributors — Miranda Lee and Tiffany Joy Butler — along with Sapan and an advisory committee from lawyers, experts and artists.
“It’s part of saying, ‘Please accept as valuable people who behave differently, who may say things in a different way, who may not look you in the eye,'” Guerrero-Mostafa said. “The message is that there is no one way to be autistic and we want to speak for ourselves. We don’t want to be told to conform.”
One entry, “Satan Cured My Autism” is a 20-minute “mockumentary” by Jackson Tucker-Meyer – who, like the other performers, is on the spectrum. It pokes fun at what has become known as inspiration porn. In his film, Tucker-Meyer, 27, portrays Jimmy, a young autistic character with two personas: one who “has learned to assimilate into neuraltypical society — we call it masking,” he said, and the other who “don’t care about social niceties.”
“It’s this one person’s journey to reconcile the two halves of themselves or not,” Tucker-Meyer said in an interview. “I personally have the privilege of passing as neurotypical in certain situations, and it has its own advantages and its own problems. I have been able to move in circles that might be closed to me, but at the same time contribute to feelings of alienation or exhaustion. That’s what I struggle with in this film.”
Among the 18 works on display in the exhibit are Bradley Hennessey’s An Aspie Life, an arcade-style video game that deals with “scripting,” the strategies used in autism education to help people know what to do. in different social situations. “Having an exhibition will shed more light on our experiences,” Hennessey said.
Bryn Chainey’s 2021 film “The Father of Rodents” portrays wrestlers from Australia in the United States. Alba Enid García Rivas and Julio Garay, a wife and husband team from Puerto Rico (Garay and their daughter are autistic) have created puppets and an animated film about a grandmother teaching her granddaughter about their Taíno ethnic group: “Dak’ Toká Taíno /Yo Soy Taíno/I am Taíno.”
The exhibition also includes the short film “In My Language” from 2007 by the blogger Mel Baggs, who died in 2020. The film, which offers a glimpse into the minds of people who think and communicate in non-traditional ways, received significant coverage from DailyExpertNews coverage when it was first released on YouTube.
London-based artist April Lin created a gigantic moving image mural commissioned for the museum’s lobby wall. “Film is the way I communicate,” Lin said. “The specific contributions that autistic people make are often sidelined or not allowed to blossom. This exhibition is an opportunity for us to be seen on our terms, without having to make ourselves smaller or dilute things to fit someone else’s vision.”
Entries were judged by a panel of experts, including Sapan; actors Joe Pantoliano and Tony Goldwyn; Cheryl Henson, the president of the Jim Henson Foundation; and the producer Brian Grazer.
The festival includes a workshop on how to create access drivers for artists with disabilities, an animation workshop and film screenings.
“We need to involve people on the spectrum with things that are made for people on the spectrum,” Guerrero-Mostafa said.
Ultimately, Sapan said, he hopes Marvels of Media becomes something akin to the Special Olympics, bringing greater focus to art forms that have meant so much to his son and others who share his interests. “It’s a personally driven project,” Sapan said.
For the makers, the project also feels personal. “I was basically trying to tell people what it’s really like to be autistic,” Tucker-Meyer says in his film, “especially telling normal people what it feels like, because I think that’s really the point of art: normal people. tell how it feels different.”