With so much dyslexia in creative communities, it’s not surprising that more authors and screenwriters are including dyslexic characters in their works. The strength side is appearing more commonly, but is it great or will it make you cringe?
The answer is, probably a little bit of both.
First the GREAT – dyslexia has been in entertainment news lately as Kelly Clarkson has been sharing her interest in dyslexia after her 8 year old daughter was found to be dyslexic.
In the YouTube clip below, Kelly asks Captain America Anthony Mackie about the latest script for his Avengers movie and he shares how he must log onto a site to read the top secret material. He has to read under the supervision of an intern – but because he’s dyslexic, he reads slow (starts at 4:56)
Kelly also responded with tears when Henry spoke to her daughter River after hearing that she was bullied at school for her reading.
It’s a beautiful thing when more people are able to talk about their dyslexia and the more people speak out, the easier it is for 8-year-olds and everyone else anywhere.
There’s a long history of dyslexic characters in books, TV, and film, but on the grand scale of things, considering how common dyslexia is, still a drop in the bucket. When a dyslexic character is introduced as a recurring character in a film of TV series, the pressure can be on in terms of how people with dyslexia are presented to the world.
Writers with first-hand knowledge of dyslexia often fare better than those who don’t have a personal connection, but by the nature of film, misrepresentations still occur, even though these films may do so much good just by their positive, inventive, and resourceful characters.
Among fantasy feature movies, Percy Jackson is another much-loved fictional character.
But why all the flying letters to represent dyslexia?
For far too many people, popular media is the main way they learn new things – and far too few people know anything about dyslexia.
Recently, a friend and colleague recommend we watch Will Trent, a new TV series with a talented detective who is also dyslexic.
What started out as hope, turned to disappointment. Why screenwriters try to cover topics that they do not understand?
Hollywood and author Karin Slaughter – can’t you do better?
PARTS OF WILL TRENT ARE CRINGE-WORTHY
Tech writer and mom Medium blogger Shannon Russo Soltesz recently wrote Will Trent Got It All Wrong (behind Medium’s paywall) where she calls out the series for confusing dyslexia with complete illiteracy. Will can’t read at all.
If you’re a parent with dyslexic students, I would always recommend previewing a show yourself – otherwise you could be caught by an unpleasant surprise.
The show had originally been suggested to me as a TV character showing dyslexic strengths. A friend with a 12 year old son recently told me she was looking forward to watching it with her son – I told her she might want to think again.
Perhaps out of an attempt to balance, the first episode also has a pot-addicted character who is also dyslexic – who shoots himself in the head in front of the detective out of remorse for having participated in a kidnapping.
Really? Families who might have been excited to have even a mildly positive adult dyslexic character on TV to watch with their little kids, will have to wait a little longer.
The show is as likely to perpetuate as many myths and misunderstandings as any positives…but hopefully the writers will consult with more dyslexic people on future episodes.
At Salon, dyslexic designer Gil Gershoni added this in his critique about the show.
“…dyslexia is not illiteracy. Dyslexics can read, it’s just that their brains don’t do so linearly, like a non dyslexic’s might… Young children might write their letters flipped, but most adult dyslexics wouldn’t still be struggling with that particular task. Finally, Will Trent owns an ancient flip phone, presumably to avoid the complexity of the modern iPhone – really? I assure you, dyslexics are just as beholden to, and capable of navigating, modern technology as the next person….”
(Brief note from Fernette – many might take issue with Gil’s comments regarding dysgraphia. Many adults still have difficulties with dysgraphia, although the writing challenges are usually considerably worse as children).
Seeing ourselves in popular culture, in positions of power and success, in characters such as Will Trent, is important. It lets dyslexics know that we’re ready, as a community, to understand the nuances around dyslexia. We need “Will Trent” to acknowledge that part of Trent’s arc – from ashamed of his dyslexia to motivated and energized by it – in the following seasons the way that many dyslexics do, in real life.
Finally, we need to be careful that, in our representation, we’re not turning dyslexia into a plot device without much basis in reality, a schtick that buries the learning difference in misinformation. We can use shows like “Will Trent” as an excellent launching pad for deeper discussions around learning differences — and how to create an environment in which they are celebrated, and dyslexics can thrive.”
I know the writer and the actor who plays Will in the show have said positive things about dyslexia and seeing the world differently in interviews. Karin apparently has a family member who is dyslexic.
The series has renewed for another season, hopefully some involved in the production will hear about some of these cringe-worthy misses; there is so much potential in the stories. There are many who want to cheer you on!