Let's talk about The Imitation Game, or rather, let's talk about the print advertisements for The Imitation Game. As you may know, The film The Imitation Game is about British mathematician Alan Turing, who led a team that broke the Nazi code "enigma" during World War II. The print ads, which Deadline notes began in January and are no doubt bent on winning Oscar votes, focus on Turing's homosexuality. One ad reads:
"Alan Turing and his team broke the German Enigma code and saved millions of lives during World War II. Rather than be recognized as a hero, he was persecuted for his sexuality. All these years later, the injustice remains."
As the movie acknowledges (it is no great spoiler), Turing killed himself one year after being arrested for "indecency," which was code for hiring a male prostitute. When sentenced, he had the choice of going to prison for two years or undergoing chemical castration. Clearly, in every sense of the word, Turing's life was ruined--it ended--as a consequence of his being a closeted male in an age when being a closeted male was not only socially unacceptable but illegal.
But I want to talk about something else. If you watch the movie, it it hard to come away with the feeling that, while Turing's postwar life was turned upside down as a consequence of his homosexuality being discovered by police, his life was also affected by his being a person with Autism.
The movie does not say Turing was on the spectrum, but it uses all the tropes that writers and moviemakers use to signal a person is on the spectrum: he is presented as socially awkward and inflexible, he cannot read people, he cannot tell when a person is joking. From his childhood (seen in flashback) to his days working for the military, to his post-war encounter with the police who ultimately discover his homosexuality, the thing that makes Turing stand a part is that which makes him be A part: his autism. His literalness, intransience in the face of authority and change, and his seeming petulance and childishness in the face of opposition--all hallmarks of autism--isolate him from others. In the worst of circumstances they lead to his being tormented and bullied and in the best of circumstances they lead to well-intentioned individuals (namely the Keira Knightley character) having to interpret the world for him and to him. Indeed, the success he ultimately has in breaking the Enigma code--if the movie is to believed--comes only when he is able to marry (nearly literally) his genius to Keira Knightley's social skills assistance.
All of this is a very long way of saying: why are we only talking about his homosexuality? Why is Turing being presented as a hero and a martyr for gay rights but not ALSO as a hero for the autism community?
I'll tell you why: Because making it an autism movie will not earn the movie any Oscar votes. Now--I want to be clear here--I think a movie that starts a conversation about the injustice faced by the LGBT community after World War II is important and I think that conversation is important. But in an age of ever-growing awareness of and diagnosis of Autism, a movie that tries to start a conversation about being on the spectrum is also important--especially a movie that says no less than three times that it is the people we often expect the least of that sometimes achieve the most amazing things.
Here is where we are as a country: We are at a place where we can advocate loudly (and rightly so) for gay rights. We are at a place where we can advocate loudly for more people of color being nominated for Academy Awards (and rightly so). We are at a place where we can advocate for more women in media (and rightly so), but we are not a place where we can even call a movie about a person with autism a movie about a person with autism.
Have you heard the saying, "Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did, but backwards and with high heels"? It is sort of like that for Alan Turing: Alan Turing did not just break the Nazi code: he did it while trying to negotiate a social world that dismissed him and that he could only imperfectly fathom. Maybe the next ads going out to Academy voters could focus on that.