Editors note: the writer of this piece was given the tickets for free, this did not affect their review.
“One day he said to me, he could never imagine himself to be a lead in a film.”
LOVE is a short film starring Jules Robertson, an autistic man playing Oscar – but the production team says it is a film about unrequited love from his perspective, rather than a film about autism itself.
In speaking to writer Gemma Harvey, it is clear that LOVE aims to show how being autistic impacts one’s perspective and being a piece of proper representation, whilst not being so one-dimensional as to not apply this to a story:
“TV shows out there that are talking about autism, it’s mainly about autism [itself], not about autistic people’s experiences.”
The idea for the storyline came from conversations between Harvey and Robertson, who she has long supported on the set of Holby City. When googling around autism, one search that popped up was ‘Can autistic people fall in love and get married?’, sparking discussions about stereotypes and the myths often applied to autism.
In an industry where autistic and neurodivergent representation is still limited, every story portrayed properly is important. As well as being a writer, and dyslexic herself, Harvey has been working in Creative Support roles for a number of years. She is committed to making the industry accessible to neurodivergent professionals.
She discussed the number of adaptations that can be made to the environment so that an autistic or otherwise disabled professional can thrive, for example, making sure that downtime is given or getting information in advance:
“Wellbeing and mental health is sometimes pushed to the sidelines. It’s not anyone’s fault, but just because of time and money. So it’s making sure that those independent needs of the particular actor you’re working with are considered.”
The film itself is an intriguing twenty minutes – we see Oscar navigate not only unrequited love, but the world around him and how others react to his needs. Although short, the impact is significant, and the importance of neurodivergent actors and production team members is striking.
Within LOVE, we see many of Oscar’s autistic traits – some more obviously shown that others. We see his routine, going to the cafe at the same time each morning with him waiting outside if it’s early; his order the same and the way he struggles to know what to do when one day someone is sat in his seat.
More subtly, we hear the same music from The Streets throughout, showing the way many of us fixate on music or feel safer whilst listening to one artist.
During the Q&A after LOVE’s UK premiere, at the BFI Busting the Bias festival, the production team also explained the way they changed the colours, light and sound levels when Oscar enters different places to represent the level of anxiety he may be feeling.
In the cafe with his unrequited love, Daisy – played by writer Gemma Harvey herself – it is bright with pastel colours, sound levels softer. The outside world is harsher, louder.
An ongoing discussion the disabled community has with the TV and film industries is the common belief that disabled characters should be played by disabled actors. On the topic, Harvey said “Having disabled actors to play those roles means they come with their own lived experiences, which people without those disabilities can’t get.”
“At the moment we don’t have equality because executive producers are scared to cast disabled actors in these roles because they think they might not be able to.”
With LOVE being made on a shoestring budget, running out of money two days into filming before more money could be raised, it seems apparent that there shouldn’t be any excuses for the wider industry to be involving disabled people in creative roles, whether that be acting or writing.
These are industries that have to become more open to disabled people, understanding that with accommodations, they can thrive. Lived experience brings an element to disabled characters that cannot be gained in any other way, and this should be seen as a positive instead of adjustments being seen as a nuisance.
Not only that, but there is nothing quite as important as representation. Disabled people seeing themselves on screen is key to their own identities, feeling understood and like they can overcome parts of our ableist society.
LOVE is a clear example of an emotional piece of representation, full of not only examples of the autistic experience, but of jokes, anger, and unrequited feelings. This film shows that disabled representation can be more than simply discussions of autism alone.
You can find out more about LOVE at https://www.loveshortfilm.co.uk/
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