Last weekend, I went to the Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo. Adam West (original TV Batman from the 1960’s), the entire original cast from Star Trek: The Next Generation, John Noble and Jasika Nicole (from Fringe), James Marsters (Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel), Amanda Tapping (from Stargate: SG1 and Sanctuary), George Perez (who is the original artist for a large number of Marvel super heroes), and many other creators and stars were there.
I’ve written about the weekend here and there on other blogs. Today, I want to tell you about the best disability-related moment of the weekend, and the follow-up conversation I had.
On Saturday morning, I went to the Fringe panel (official site). John Noble (who plays Walter on the show) was there, as was Jasika Nicole (who plays Astrid). If you don’t know the show, that’s okay; what you need to know is that there is an alternate universe, and all of the main characters have doppelgngers there. In the prime universe, Astrid is an FBI agent who has been assigned to basically be “in charge” of Walter, who is a somewhat absent-minded professor type (okay, that’s an understatement; the man is brilliant and has an addled mind, partially due to overuse of LSD). In the alternate universe, “Walternate” is the Secretary of Defense and very much in control of all of his faculties, while Alt Astrid is an FBI agent and has Asperger Syndrome.
A lot of the questions the audience asked had to do with playing their alternate universe characters. Something that the fanbase knows is that Jasika has a younger sister (she is 14 years old) who has autism. So one of the questions asked to her had to do with playing Alt Astrid and finding the right way to portray her.
Jasika’s response was phenomenal. She talked about how her sister is not as good at communicating as Alt Astrid is, and how she researched and noted that one very common thing is intermittent eye contact. “For her, it’s comfortable to give you information, then look up to make sure you understand, then look away and give you more information and then look at you to make sure you understand,” she said. It was one of the clearest statements of outsider understanding of the autistic lack of eye contact that I’ve heard in a while.
It was obvious that Jasika loves her sister very much. It was in her voice and in the words she used when talking about her. And she concluded by saying, “Not everyone is lucky enough to have someone with autism in their lives.”
I am not ashamed to say that I teared up.
The next day, Sunday, I went and stood in line to get Jasika’s and John’s autographs. Most of the people in the line were there for John, so I got to jump the line a bit to get Jasika’s autograph. Since there wasn’t anyone right behind me, I was able to have a conversation with her.
I started by telling her how happy I was to hear her speak so positively about autism during the panel the day before. I got teary again.
“I feel like we shared a moment,” she said.
We had a lovely conversation about how far too much of the media coverage about autism is negative, and she recommended the documentary Neurotypical (official site)to me. As soon as I find it locally I will watch it (either on DVD or in the theatre; I’m not picky).
I am now a huge fan (Astrid – from both universes – was already my favourite character on Fringe). I do hope you will check out her work on the show (I recommend locating Season 1 and starting from the beginning as the story might be a tad confusing otherwise). She is also a talented artist, and I love looking at the pictures on her web site.
Oh, and if you go here, you can see the photo I chose for her to sign for me. (The page is in French, but the picture is the important part anyway.)