Thursday, April 12, 2018

Our Meeting with Marvel Entertainment, by Alec Frazier and Autistic Reality

Me, Alec Frazier, at Marvel Entertainment
Ever since the release of my first book, Without Fear: The First Autistic Superhero, which reviews the character of Tim Urich, the second Daredevil and first successfully rendered autistic superhero, I have been trying to arrange a meeting with Marvel Entertainment. Thanks to my boss and client, Jd Michaels, Executive Vice President of BBDO New York, a large advertising firm, this dream has become a reality.

We were met at Marvel by Jon Ennis, the Director of Business Development for Marvel Entertainment. He escorted us through the halls filled with original art, and into the Spider-Man Conference Room, which contains two life-sized figures of Spider-Man, and several large figurines of his supporting cast and villains. We were joined by Darren Sanchez, the editor of Marvel responsible for custom content.

For a while, we shot the breeze about what we liked about Marvels work, and how we got into it. After a while, I brought up the review I mentioned earlier, and Jon and Darren mentioned that they had read it. I pointed out that the autistic population is the fastest-growing disability, and one of the largest. We also mentioned that the disability population is the largest minority in the world, a fact that many people do not realize. We also pointed out some of the other successful work that Marvel has done with disabilities in the past, such as Matt Murdock, the first Daredevil, Professor X, and even Hawkeye. I also pointed out that having an autistic character in the Netflix show Daredevil for the hero to mentor would be a wonderful idea. At one point, Jd even brought out my book, and insisted that I have great qualities as a writer. This is a rough draft of the book Veni! Vidi! Autism! In which this essay appears. I had never seen a physical copy of the book yet, and we were all very impressed to hold it in our hands.

Our key mission was to make Marvel Entertainment aware of this large market. Darren mentioned that he had created some characters with disabilities as part of his projects in the past, and often worked with disability rights advocates. At that point, I mentioned my firm, Autistic Reality, and what we do, including but not limited to public speaking, lobbying, consulting, and peer advocacy. I also warned against working with radical organizations on either side of the spectrum such as Autism Speaks and the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, both of whom tend to do more harm than good. We also asked that Marvel keep us in mind for Comicon panels on diversity and disability.

Darren and Jon appreciated all of this information, and definitely agreed that there are stories to be told, as well as an untapped market. In particular, they agreed with me that having a character around Tim Urichs age, between 15 and 25, would be amazing as they could show personal development and growth in the character as an autistic individual. All of us agreed that identity politics have the potential to tear us apart, and that autism is incidental to identity, and not the absolute primary focus, just as I had pointed out in Without Fear.

At the end of the meeting, we agreed to be in touch, and my boss and I were allowed to take some photos for publicity. Having a meeting with Marvel Entertainment, whom I have adored and appreciated since the age of five, is already beyond my wildest dreams. I get the distinct feeling that something will come of this meeting, although we do not quite know what. This is already a dream come true, and I already know that it will lead to furtherance of disability visibility in the media!

This blog posting is both the personal opinion of Alec Frazier, and the professional policy of his advocacy firm, Autistic Reality. If you oppose it, please screen grab it! We are very proud of this opinion!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

My Dream Job: On the Importance of Networking, by Alec Frazier and Autistic Reality

Hello, I’m Alec Frazier. I’m autistic and have been a self-advocate and an advocate since I can remember, although definitely professionally since I gave my first speech in third grade in 1994. I am currently the Director of Autistic Reality, my own advocacy and consultancy firm. In this blog, I will discuss disability employment and the importance of networking.

Alec Frazier
Individuals with autism are often passed over for employment. In some cases, it is because we are not as socially adept as others. In other cases, it is because we may have unusual quirks which employers can find less desirable. As such, we can be completely capable of carrying out a job but get turned down time and time again. Eighteen is seen as the age of majority, but I did not get my first paying job until at least 10 years later, and it was for an agency run by the disability community.

More frequently, my applications were turned down, or even ignored. For six years, while I was in university, I lived in a Rust Belt town and, at one point, submitted at least 150 applications in a row and received not one response. Over the years, I built up a very solid list of volunteer activities and other work. Some of my work, such as volunteer work for an independent living network, was actually more intense than some of the paid staff, and this was acknowledged by my superiors. However, they lacked the ability to pay me.

Finally, having obtained a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in disability studies, I moved to the Washington, D.C. area to pursue a career and advocacy.

I was not disappointed. Three days after moving to our nation’s capital, in late 2016, I was invited to the White House for a business conference on disability in the media called Lights! Camera! Access! 2.0. At this conference, I met Jd Michaels, the Executive Vice President of BBDO Worldwide, an international advertising firm. Although I continued pursuing employment in other venues, Jd and I continued communicating regularly, sometimes emailing, sometimes talking by phone, and sometimes Skyping.

After a few months, Jd approached me with a job offer: he hired me as an editor for an anthology of writings by authors with disabilities. In addition, I told him that I had a number of writings that I wished to get published, and he agreed to help me with that at no cost to myself, and in such a way that I could receive all of the profits. These essays are varied in character, from pop-culture reviews to academic papers. In fact, this blog will go going in my book, which is titled Veni! Vedi! Autism! It will be out in about a month.
Jd Michaels and Alec Frazier

Jd has been an amazing employer. He has provided me with all of the tools I need to succeed. I have writing disabilities, so he has provided me with Dragon NaturallySpeaking software so I can dictate my papers and even blog entries like this one. He has provided me with computer software and hardware. He has even provided me with camera batteries so that I may better publicize my experiences, hotels, meals, and travel so that I may attend conferences, and even photo shoots to publicize our work.

I have finally found a job that provides me with stability and everything I need to succeed. Want to know how many times I applied? The answer is zero. Networking got me this position. It is my firm opinion that at least 50 percent of gaining employment is networking. Below are some of my best networking tips.

·      Do you know of a conference for people in your industry? Go! It might help to set aside a small budget to pay attendance fees, although a number of them are free.
·   Does someone you know someone in “the business”? Inquire about them and try to get that person’s business card.
·       Follow up regularly on business contacts and potential business contacts.
·      Consider getting your own business card. There are services that can provide you with a number of free formats to choose from, and you will only have to pay printing and shipping. There are also more expensive cards, which are more customizable.
·      Are you good at social networking? Consider creating a page for your business. Make sure it is a page, however, and not a group.
·       Find out more about LinkedIn and join it, and regularly update your profile! It can be helpful with almost all of the ancillary parts of seeking a job, including resume building, networking, and staying apprised of current situations in your industry.
·    Is there somebody you want to get to know? Someone you want to be aware of your work? Schedule a lunch date with them! People often have lunch hours free from work and would be glad to get to know you during that time.
·       Is there an agency that governs your industry? Follow it!
·   Do you have viewpoints that you wish to share with the public? Start a blog! Platforms like Blogger are more professional and less redundant.
·       Is there an association of people in your business? Join!
·  Think you’re ready for the next step? Start a website! Make sure to trademark a catchy, unforgettable URL!

There may be fees associated with conferences and memberships, but the benefit is by far above the loss of any money you may spend. Just remember to choose wisely.

Similarly, beware of scams. There are actually scams that promise to publicize your business and, before you know it, you will be out of hundreds or thousands of dollars. Overall, go with sources, companies, and entities you know and trust. Never be afraid to ask others for their opinions or advice.

These are just some out of many tips about networking. Instead of focusing exclusively on resumes and applications, it is important that we train job seekers with disabilities to engage in proper networking. That will allow everyone to truly shine and maximize your potential.

This blog posting is both the personal opinion of Alec Frazier, and the professional policy of his advocacy firm, Autistic Reality. If you oppose it, please screen grab it! We are very proud of this opinion!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A Landmark in Civil Rights: “Love, Simon” (2018) is Real Gay Life, A Film Review by Alec Frazier and Autistic Reality


When I saw “Love, Simon” at the movie theaters, I expected a cute teen romantic comedy. It was, but in addition, it was a profound piece of civil rights history: the first mainstream gay romance film about the high school generation.

I saw a great deal of myself in the film. Like Simon, I am not an extremely effeminate gay guy. Like Simon, my family was ridiculously accepting of my coming out. Like Simon, I had some trouble with peers in school bullying me for being gay. Like Simon, I have an amazingly tolerant group of friends.

It’s funny, because this film portrays gay romance as a mostly run-of-the-mill thing, and, in today’s society, it is increasingly becoming so. I have seen reactions on Facebook from people who say it is not, but they are from places like Billings, Montana where viewpoints on the issue are hardly moderate. I came out at age 19 in 2005. In my years as an openly gay man, I have, for the most part, encountered people who are incredibly tolerant of homosexuality. In fact, I would say at least 80% of the individuals I have encountered think of it as a nonissue. I will admit that I travel and mostly liberal circles, but I do not shy away from conservative areas of the country and the world, either.

Family acceptance is also becoming more and more common, and Simon’s family is indicative of that. When I came out of the closet, my mother said she had known since I was six months old. Simon’s mother tells him that she had suspected for quite some time. My father was extremely tolerant, and even asked me extremely technical questions about gay relationships. Simon’s father makes awkward jokes and also gets out of his depth about gay culture; he thinks Grindr is like Facebook for gay people! Simon’s sister has no issues whatsoever, and neither did my brother. In fact, not a single family member of mine raised an issue.

This isn’t just a trend with myself and my family: I have even met people from the middle of rural Iowa whose families are ridiculously accepting. I will admit that I encountered members in my university’s LGBTQ alliance who had a tough time coming out, but I also met many people on the LGBTQ spectrum who did not have a tough time of it. It is curious, because most of those people did not belong to the alliance and were often not actively involved in LGBTQ matters at the school. I would hazard a guess that people in my college joined LGBTQ causes and groups exactly because they found little acceptance at home.

There are a few dream sequences in the film, and in one of them, Simon is in a college that is so gay-friendly that the entire sequence is a musical bedecked in rainbows. As a matter of fact, I actually went to such a university. While tolerance of the gay population was absolutely amazing, tolerance of other groups such as the disability population lagged significantly. In addition, since I am not a very visibly gay person, there was incredible pressure upon me to become so, but that is just not me. It’s not Simon, either. There is a moment the film when he googles “how to dress like a gay guy”, but he decides that it is not for him.

Simon navigates a series of common high school interactions with friends, all of whom are tolerant of him being gay. For the record, my friends are all completely tolerant of that facet of my life, some even brag about it. Many of girls and I appraise guys together, there is a scene where Simon does that with his friend Abby. There is a moment he is outed by a guy, but the guy in question isn’t homophobic; he’s just being a jerk, and even apologizes profusely.

There are a couple of bullies in the school who make fun of him and the school’s only other openly homosexual male student. They are dealt with swiftly by those in charge. Like Simon, I was bullied and even gay bashed by students in school, in this case, roommates at my community college. Unlike Simon, the students never apologized, and the staff of the school all the way up to the vice president aided and abetted the gay bashers. I made a much, much better place now.

Simon’s relationship with his online boyfriend, Blue, parallels many relationships that I have had. Like Simon, I tend to look for romance, and not casual hookups. In real life, gay couples often chat extensively online before meeting in person. There are many dating apps where this happens, in addition to more traditional platforms such as email. In the end, it is revealed that Blue is Simon’s acquaintance Bram, an African-American jock from school. In gay relationships, interracial dating is widely accepted. The idea is that our whole population has had to go through an entire civil rights movement to gain the right to have open relationships, so it really isn’t a big deal if someone youedate doesn’t look like you. There are many more important factors. I myself have dated a number of different kinds of guys, African Americans included.

At the end of the film, Simon and Bram start their relationship together. It doesn’t happen with a bang, or with overwhelming drama. It just happens. This has been true for straight couples for generations. There is no reason why it shouldn’t hold true for us.

Love, Simon is an absolutely sweet, cute, accurate portrayal of romance amongst many gay teenagers in today’s world. For that simple fact, it is a landmark film unlike any before. Gay youth having trouble with acceptance should see this film. Others having trouble accepting people who are gay should see this film. People who are friendly or family to the gay cause should see this film. Not to mention, on its own, it is a wonderful film. We give it five out of five stars, or ten out of ten.

This blog posting is both the personal opinion of Alec Frazier, and the professional policy of his advocacy firm, Autistic Reality. If you oppose it, please screen grab it! We are very proud of this opinion!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Interview on Employment of Autistic People, by Alec Frazier and Autistic Reality

Please note that my answers are definitely not exhaustive, but are rather a combination of what is true to me, and what answers I find to be least given by other people.
  • What does inclusiveness and accessibility mean to you in the workplace?
Autism is a social and behavioral disability. Therefore, to me, inclusiveness and accessibility in the workplace means a kind, understanding staff. It also means office social situations that I can easily become acclimated to. I recognize that some autistic people have a harder time becoming acclimated than others, but I also understand that some are unwilling. In my opinion, being willing to acclimate to certain social situations as much is comfortably possible can help one in business tremendously. There are meetings to go to, presentations to give, and coworkers to get along with.
  • What are some of the challenges facing autistic people who are in traditional workplaces, particularly due to a lack of accommodations or accessibility?
Interestingly, the least accessible workplace I have ever been in was an independent living center in Buffalo, New York. This is highly ironic, given that independent living centers are disability-run, and are supposed to be the most accommodating workplaces in the country. This was definitely not true of this business. My immediate boss yelled at me and belittled me every single day—often until I cried, one of the receptionists repeatedly told me I did not work there, the IT staffer told me to “fuck off” repeatedly, and the entire place was run by three members of the same immediate family, in the most glaringly obvious ethics violation I have ever encountered. Sadly, the autistic community often encounters staff members with bad attitudes or lack of understanding.
  • What can employers, coworkers, hiring managers, HR departments, etc. do to better support autistic employees?
As a contrast, my current employer, the Executive Vice President of Diversity at BBDO Worldwide, a large advertising firm, recognizes that I have my own idiosyncrasies, odd behaviors, and needs for accommodation. In terms of the odd behaviors, he actually encourages them! He is the nicest boss I could ever imagine! He understands that a large part of inclusion is a good attitude and being tolerant of people who are mentally and emotionally different. He and I love to tell jokes, talk about our personal lives and our work experience, and get all geeky and nerdy together! HR departments need to recognize that not everybody is going to fit the same behavioral mold, and that just because someone is goofy, geeky, or “weird”, does not mean that they are necessarily a bad employee or job candidate.
  • What stereotypes or myths have you come across about autistic people that affect how autistic people are treated in the workplace?
One stereotype is that we are all into things like math and computer science. That is absolute hogwash. While it is true that autistic people tend to fixate on specific issues, there is nothing about the autistic population that guarantees that we will all be mathematicians or scientists. I, for example, am interested in things like history, political science, and architecture. Another stereotype is that we are, by and large, completely socially inept. In reality, social experience can often lead to us being quite savvy to the moods and emotions of others. It has for me.
  • Can you give me a specific example of different things that help you succeed in the workplace? Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve had to ask for your workplace to be made more accessible to you?
This plays into another stereotype, which says that sensory issues are inherently severe for the autistic population. First off, the sensory diagnosis is actually separate from autism, and has gone by various names such as Sensory Integration Disorder and Sensory Processing Disorder. This is often quite severe in many autistics, but that is not always the case. In addition, our tolerance for sensory overload can be grown and expanded with experience. As I mentioned earlier, many of us in the activism world are not interested in growing that tolerance. I respectfully disagree, as growing my tolerance for sensory exposure has allowed me to become a better worker, a better friend, a more integrated member of society, and a more independent adult. That said, I have asked that my workplaces be aware of my sensory issues and be more accommodating. The abusive workplace I was in earlier demanded medical documentation, when all I wanted was for the break room lights to be off for five minutes. My job for BBDO Worldwide actually has a dark study room/library built specifically so that the bright lights of the office do not overwhelm the workers all the time.
  • Are there any common workplace trends that you feel employers need to re-think in order to make the workplace/office more inclusive? (For example, Skype interviews or open office plans)
My biggest suggestion is actually not for the workplaces, but for the training of potential employees. Throughout school, throughout social skills classes, throughout job training seminars (of which there were plenty), throughout vocational rehab, throughout job counseling (which was seemingly endless in my case), a clear majority of the training involved putting together a resume and filling out an application. Although it is sometimes a relatively recent development, workplaces no longer rely solely on resumes and applications when hiring people. Networking, networking, networking is the skill that gets at least half of America their jobs in today’s society. This is actually not as new as it seems. Back in the day, giving your friend a job was not a big deal. The difference between then and now is that now employers are looking to hire qualified employees because they know them well, and they know that they are right for the job. In Buffalo, New York, I applied for at least one hundred and fifty jobs in a row without even hearing back. It’s not like I was declined, but I never even heard back! Three days after I moved to Washington, DC, I was invited to the mother of all networking events at the Obama White House and met my current boss. We Skyped, talked by phone, and one day he offered me a job that I didn’t even apply for. Not just that, but it is a well-paying job, with lots of benefits. And, it is terrifically fun to work at! This is a perfect example of how training those entering the workforce needs to stop focusing entirely on resumes and applications and start focusing on networking!
  • Have you ever worked remotely, or do you have anything to say about the benefits of working remotely or flexible working hours for autistic employees?
In fact, I am working remotely right now. What I do is not like telework. Instead, I set aside some time to do my job, which involves creating written content, and editing other people’s written content. A large part of my job also involves traveling and experiencing things so that I may write about them and attending conferences and meetings in various localities such as New York City and Boston. My hours are up to my discretion, and the location where I do my work—often at my laptop—is also up to my discretion. I do realize that not everybody can have a job this flexible, but it has proven extremely beneficial. Many of the experiences I have for my work are extremely fun, and I get compensated for writing about them. It also allows me to set my own leisure time.
  • How would you like to be quoted: Name, pronouns, and a very brief one-sentence bio
Alec Frazier is an editor and disability rights advocate from Washington, DC.

This blog posting is both the personal opinion of Alec Frazier, and the professional policy of his advocacy firm, Autistic Reality. If you oppose it, please screen grab it! We are very proud of this opinion!

Monday, February 19, 2018

We Are All in This Together: Lessons in Advocacy from Marvel’s Black Panther (2018), by Alec Frazier and Autistic Reality

Warning! May contain spoilers!

Alec Frazier (center) seeing Black Panther with his friends Kenny (left) and Heidi (right)
Last night some friends of mine and I went to see Marvel’s Black Panther. We were completely blown away by the storyline, and by the leadership of the African-American community in making this film. It is, on that front, a tremendous civil-rights landmark.

The film stars Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa, King of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, and its protector as the Black Panther. This nation is the most technologically advanced civilization on earth, and is far, far ahead of the rest of the world. This raises an interesting quandary, as the King is encouraged by various others to share his kingdom’s knowledge and technology with the rest of the world.

Let us not kid ourselves: even the best-off nations in the world can use some help. The United States is rife with gun violence, poverty, and corrupt politics. Those are just a few of our problems. However, no one society on earth should have the right to claim superiority above the rest. This is part of what motivates T’Challa not to meddle in global affairs, in addition to a long-standing tradition of noninterference from his ancestors.

Enter N’Jadaka also known as Erik “Killmonger” Stevens, played by Michael B. Jordan, a rival to the throne, who has grown up amongst the urban poor African population in the United States. He is feeling hurt, betrayed, and angry at the way the African ethnic group has been routinely abused and mistreated around the world. He seizes control of Wakanda, and attempts to use their advanced resources, and more importantly, their more advanced weapons, to arm the marginalized African community around the world. He wishes to start a global revolution.

Nevertheless, by the end of the film, T’Challa defeats Killmonger, and offers Wakanda’s aid, science, and technology to the rest of the world.

At the end of the film, T’Challa gives a speech at the United Nations in which he says, “We have spent far too long focusing on what sets us apart, when we share so much in common.” At this point, in the audience, we at Autistic Reality shouted, “Thank you! That’s what we have been saying for years!” and the audience clapped.

There are obvious parallels between T’Challa and Killmonger and today’s society. Believe it or not, there are parallels between these two and the autistic advocacy community.

The traditional Wakandan point of view about the world has some parallels with the view of Autism Speaks, an advocacy organization run by parents and caregivers. The traditional Wakandan point of view states that other nations are naturally inferior, and that Wakanda should not get involved in world affairs. Meanwhile, Autism Speaks believes that the autistic population is naturally inferior, and that autistic people do not have a right to equal involvement in the world.

Killmonger’s point of view is that Africans in general, and Wakandans in specific, are superior to the rest of the world, and that they should overtake it by means of a violent revolution and rule it. Various groups such as the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) draw parallels to Killmonger. Whether or not it is their stated policy, members of organizations such as ASAN repeatedly voice their own superiority to the rest of the world, and even threaten violence against people with whom they disagree. Even when they are not threatening violence, they are needlessly combative, focusing more and more on identity politics than the commonalities which draw us altogether. In fact, the same feelings felt by Killmonger, hurt, betrayal, and anger, are often turned into emotions and actions of hostility, superiority, and separatism by organizations such as ASAN and their members.

Meanwhile, at our firm, Autistic Reality, we feel a strong parallel with T’Challa’s policies at the end of the film. T’Challa has decided to use the unique resources available to him and his kingdom to help the world become a better place. As an autistic individual, I feel that I have a unique worldview, and experiences from which I can gain knowledge to better help the world. In addition, I have other resources at my disposal, thanks in large part to networking, befriending people, and overall getting along with individuals and organizations whether they are autism-centric or not. I could care less if you are fat, thin, gay, straight, black, white, transgender, cisgender, old, young, disabled, or nondisabled. Are you a good person? Do you seek to better yourself and those around you? If you do, then I believe in your potential.

T’Challa’s speech at the United Nations plays into a philosophy I have had of the world for years, long before the release of the film Black Panther: we are all human, and our common, shared identity is the most important attribute we have. Too many people play identity politics, squabbling amongst each other, instead of focusing on the fact that any benefits we make should serve society. When we are separate, we are small minority groups. When we are together, we are humanity; we are one!

Wakanda forever!

Together forever!

This blog posting is both the personal opinion of Alec Frazier, and the professional policy of his advocacy firm, Autistic Reality. If you oppose it, please screen grab it! We are very proud of this opinion!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

My Avatar Story, by Alec Frazier and Autistic Reality

> What is your ‘Avatar story’ from when you first saw it?
Me at the Valley of Mo’ara on Pandora
When Avatar first came out, I heard the mumblings and then rumors of what a fantastic, world-changing film it was. Then, late in December 2009, I saw a bit on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart where correspondent John Oliver reported from Pandora. I was intrigued, to say the least, but still not sure that Avatar deserved all the praise it was getting. However, the rumor mill was working full-time, and I finally saw the film on January 6, 2010. My life was forever changed. I have always been a consummate geek, and this film was, to me, the best of geekery, as well as having many messages that were completely in line with my worldview.

> What struck you the most about Avatar?
Producer John Landau, Neytiri, and Yasu at Lightstorm Entertainment.
Identity has always been incredibly important to me. Fiction involving identity and revelations about identity have always struck me extremely potently. Jake finding his identity and finally becoming it moved me to my core. The way that the identity message figures in with messages about tolerance and acceptance only makes it more vital. Nevertheless, we should not let identity politics drive us apart, and I am extremely thankful that the Na’vi teach this lesson in the film.

> What did it mean to you?
Me with Jake Sully’s Wheelchair
I live my life every day with more than ten disabilities including autism, bipolar, and sensory integration issues. The fact that the main character has a disability himself, and that he can save an entire world while living with those disabilities has, in my mind, done a tremendous amount for disability civil rights. I am aware that the actor himself does not have those disabilities, but the fact that he was required to play a nondisabled role as well would have made it difficult for someone without use of their legs to play the role. I know for a fact that there will be disabled actors in the sequels.

> How did it affect you?
With my Avatar on Flight of Passage on Pandora
Because the film perfectly encapsulated how I felt about the world and where it should go, I was able to refer to it when voicing my philosophical, political, and even religious ideals. I believe in cooperation and was able to join a fandom that cooperated to bring reality to the values which I hold most dear. As a disability rights advocate, I teach of how honest work and good intent can change the world for the better. This film is absolute confirmation of those facts.

> What themes in the film/story/world resonated with you the most?
Valley of Mo’ara on Pandora
My entire life’s philosophy is based upon optimism and a positive worldview. This film showed a world where you could live in harmony with the planet—in this case, literally—and triumph over many adversities. As mentioned before, I have many disabilities, and I am also gay. Nevertheless, I believe that we are all human, and that we all have the right and ability to work together for a better future.

> What connections did you make with other fans?
Linda Drumming in Swotu Wayä Na'vi Drum Ceremony on Pandora
At first, I was vaguely aware of fan efforts to show some love for this phenomenal franchise. This all became abundantly clear when I learned about AvatarMeet 2014, when the group was set to visit Lightstorm Entertainment. I messaged them, and emailed those in charge, which got the ball rolling.

> How did you connect with other fans?

With Producer Jon Landau at Lightstorm Entertainment
Initially, it was difficult, as there was no official Facebook page for the Meetup. I joined some of the Avatar web forums, but due to ADD and writing disabilities, among other reasons, forums are not a natural virtual space for me to inhabit, so there was quite a bit of emailing. We also used the resources that the AvatarMeet homepage keeps to help us keep in touch and apprised of each other’s situations.

> What was the easiest way to connect?
Omaticaya Clan in Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk - The First Flight
At some point after the first Meetup I attended in 2014, a Facebook group page was created for all of us to interact. This has been incredibly useful, both in arranging Meetups, and in keeping in touch day to day. AvatarMeet has dozens of attendees from around the world, and Facebook really is the easiest and most convenient way to keep in touch. For example, I take a great deal of photos as a hobby and can share them on the page. My career also involves me generating a lot of content based on my experiences, and the Facebook page has become a place where I can share that content.

> What were some of the best things that happened to you because of Avatar.
Ikxeru Syoapìwopx Celebrates his Birthday with Me at Satu'li Canteen on Pandora
As an autistic person, it has always been much more difficult to make friends. AvatarMeet and fandom of Avatar in general has allowed me to make many, many, many wonderful friends. As mentioned, some of these friends are from all over the globe. I laugh with them, I cry with them, I eat with them, and their several whom I love dearly as compatriots in the fandom.
Dr. Paul Frommer Teaches Na’vi at his Home
In addition, the organized fandom of AvatarMeet has allowed me to meet many wonderful people who are involved in the creation of Avatar itself. I have gotten to meet many the filmmakers at the 2014 Meetup and have met many the circus performers from the Cirque du Soleil show online. Heck, Dr. Paul Frommer, the inventor of the Na’vi language, is a very, very dear friend, and he and his partner have even invited us to their house in the Hollywood Hills for a party during the 2014 Meetup.

> Were there any bad things that happened as a result of your Avatar experience.
AvatarMeet 2014
No, not really. There have been two or three people I’ve met in the fandom who have turned out to kind of be jerks, or one or two who are not always too nice, but otherwise, my Avatar experience has been phenomenally good.

> How long did your interest in Avatar last?
AvatarMeet 2017
I am still incredibly interested in Avatar. In November of last year, just three months ago, I went to the last AvatarMeet in Florida to visit the theme park and the Kennedy Space Center, both of which had tremendous impacts on me. In my apartment, I have several memorabilia items displayed, and they include my Na’vi knife, my avatar, and my Ikran. I also have several Avatar books, some of which have been signed by people involved in the franchise, including Paul Frommer and John Landau.

> What keeps you interested in Avatar?
With Friends at Pongu Pongu on Pandora at AvatarMeet 2017
Forgive me, but at the risk of sounding like a broken record, the friends, positive message, and compatibility with my own opinions and beliefs sustains my interest in Avatar

> How would you like to see the fandom evolve?
Mr. Avatar’s Truck at Lighstorm Entertainment
I would like to see the Avatar fandom grow and become even bigger, even more global, and even more diverse. I am noticing that the fandom is mostly white, and it would be great to expand that to all racial identities. One positive thing about the fandom as of right now is that there is a large LGBTQ population within the fandom. In addition to its growth, I would like to see the fandom stay progressive, fun-loving, environmentally friendly, and tolerant and accepting of fans from all different walks of life. It is amazing that at a Meetup, I can be talking to an IT professional from Germany, a lab technician from Virginia, a barista from Seattle, and a man who takes care of big cats in Nevada.

> What is missing?
Finale of Cirque du Soleil’s Toruk - The First Flight
In my opinion, it would be great to show Na’vi with developmental disabilities. Jake Sully was an awesome role model as a character with physical disabilities, and as a veteran, but many people today, myself included, are living full and productive lives with conditions such as autism, cerebral palsy, depression, and other developmental disabilities. In my case, for example, I have at least ten developmental disabilities including autism, and I work as an editor at a major advertising firm, and as a disability rights advocate, doing public speaking, lobbying, and even meeting with national legislators. If avatar has shown us anything, it is that we can decide what our limits are, instead of letting them define us.
Some of My Avatar Autographs
In addition, it would be totally amazing to show some Na’vi living in homosexual or even polyamorous relationships. A scientist named Christopher Ryan has proven that monogamy is not natural for human beings, having only developed as recently as we started holding property. In addition, homosexuality is incredibly natural, just as natural as it is to breathe or hydrate. I can completely understand if the former tendency may be too radical to show in the sequels, or at least early in the sequels, but the Na’vi live in harmony with their world, which should include sexual identity.
Jon Landau’s Autograph
I have had a discussion on these matters with Jon Landau, and he says he is incredibly in favor of showing diversity and teaching lessons in diversity by using the characters in the films, but he did say was that we must be careful not to beat people over the head with these ideas. I agree completely, as people exist with their identities, instead of the other way around.

> And here’s a biggy, how do you think you will feel if/when there is a large influx of returning and new Avatar fans, when the next Avatar films hits the cinemas?

My Na'vi persona Älexänter te Frayzer Txawnält'itan astride my Ikran Tìronsrel
I will say, “Kaltxì”, and welcome them with open arms! I would like them to acknowledge that there is already a thriving fan community, including an official get-together, AvatarMeet, and I want them to feel free to join, as well as ask questions if they have them. Our clan is always growing and is welcoming towards others! They should also know that there is no official litmus test to be an Avatar fan, and that everyone is welcome, so long as they respect others, and the world around them!
Night Time on Pandora
This blog posting is both the personal opinion of Alec Frazier, and the professional policy of his advocacy firm, Autistic Reality. If you oppose it, please screen grab it! We are very proud of this opinion!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A Hollywood Titan on Diversity in Film: Alec Frazier of Autistic Reality Quizzes Jon Landau of Lightstorm Entertainment

Me with Jon Landau
In 2014, I was privileged enough to visit Lightstorm Entertainment with AvatarMeet. One of our activities was a question-and-answer session with a number of the filmmakers and other people involved in the making of the Avatar franchise. What follows is my exchange with producer Jon Landau, one of the smartest, most successful people in Hollywood, after I asked him about involving disability and other forms of diversity in film.

Me: I’m interested in that uh, you have this great environmental message but another message that I’ve liked a whole lot about Avatar is the message of tolerance and so I’m wondering about uh, I have a general part of this question and then specifically… I’m wondering how you’re willing to in general enforce tolerance, will not enforce but address tolerance in the movies and specifically things like sexual orientation, religion, race, and disability, things like that. So I’m wondering if any of the future movies will deal with that, or will feature that in any way, and uh, and my general question is if they will go further to promote tolerance.

Jon Landau: Well look, I think that, a general answer? Yes. When you say feature something, it always makes me nervous.

Me: No I don’t…

Jon Landau: No, no, no. I’m just saying, cause we work on stuff creatively. When you push something to the forefront, I think it has much less of an impact than one you play it in the…

Me: I agree.

Jon Landau: …background. So, featuring things I don’t think, you know will continue to exist. But, that sense, I mean I really see the future movies again, not about Na’vi versus human, but is about the choices we make. It’s about good versus evil. It’s about are you a good Na’vi, are you a bad Na’vi. Are you a good human, are you a bad human. How do you become accepting of other people and their differences. So I think those things, those thematic themes are going to play out and it’s important for us, because those are universal themes. They are not American jingoistic themes. And as we make movies in today’s world, we have to do it for a global audience and we have to, you know, attract people in and let them discover the types of things we’re talking about, and not be beating them over the head Of discovery for them, and we’re really looking at this, and while each movie will complete itself as a story arc, and I say that Jim [Cameron] twice has done sequels, I argue that both times they have at least lived up to if not been better than the first movies, but they were complete movies, so we have to do that and some of our themes that remain in the end are themes that are really gonna take the full story arc to play out, but I think that’s okay um, andwith them, let it be a journey, a journey…    

Me: That’s what I believe, too.

Jon Landau: …at the end, as we talked about we want to make movies that, that affect people, and have an impact on their lives, and how they see the world, as they move forward.

Me: Just in the interest of full disclosure, I don’t like being labeled. People exist, that’s what I think that they…

Jon Landau: Look, I’m going to use the movie “An Inconvenient Truth”. I went through it, I enjoyed it, but their preaching to the people they already converted. What you have to do is you have to, like the first Avatar does, people have heard me say this before, it begins and ends with Jake opening his eyes. So what we need to do is get people to come in, and they may think that their eyes are open, but they’re really not. Because if through our films we can get people to open their eyes and see things differently, then we’ve been successful.

This blog posting is both the personal opinion of Alec Frazier, and the professional policy of his advocacy firm, Autistic Reality. If you oppose it, please screen grab it! We are very proud of this opinion!