Movie Review: Deej – Idealizing Full Inclusion

Movie Review: Deej – Idealizing Full Inclusion

Throughout history, people with autism spectrum disorder have been misrepresented in the media. Narratives typically miss the mark completely on appropriately portraying autism or attempt to garner sympathy for characters who have the disability. There are golden nugget movies out there like Life, Animated that capture the true essence of the challenges autistic people must overcome with their disorder, but I was fortunate enough to screen a movie about autism that isn’t available to most audiences.

On September 25, 2017 in the Watson Theater, I had the pleasure of watching Deej, a documentary focusing on David James Savarese, an Oberlin College ’17 graduate who has autism spectrum disorder. The movie details the experiences David, or Deej, dealt with growing up being a person with autism who is nonspeaking. Deej has always had to have his adoptive parents help him communicate or rely on developing communication technologies to speak to others, and the movie shows the realness of his everyday life. Rather than evoking a sense of pity for Deej, the film shines light on the human being that is Deej, the talented poet who deals with anxiety, much like everyone else you know.

Of course, the society we live in today is not quite up to speed on inclusion and neurodiversity, so Deej is therefore disabled by his surrounding elements. Because he is nonspeaking, he is unable to clearly convey his thoughts and feelings to people who can speak verbally, and has struggled with these communication barriers his entire life. Nonetheless, autistic people’s understanding of life and how they experience it differs immensely from a person considered “normal” in our society saturated in the ableist mindset, and Deej eloquently illustrates the special connection they share with the world.

After the film, I was surprised to find out that Deej was in Watson Theater screening the film with us! He then allowed the audience to ask him questions, having his mother speak his written messages for him. I was not able to squeeze in a question for Deej, but I managed to gather the audience’s attention at the end of questioning to extend appreciation for his parents. Personally, I have a brother with autism spectrum disorder and I understand how hard my parents work to provide for him. The fact that Deej’s parents have stuck by his side since adopting him shows how dedicated they are to his success. I’m sure they absolutely love Deej’s poetry and learning from his unique perspective on life.

Overall, Deej is a terrific film that touched my heart. Deej’s poetry sprinkled throughout the film helps the audience see the world through his eyes, highlighting the key differences he can only share. Unfortunately, by the time this article is published, the last screening that I know of will have passed (October 12th, 2017), so you will have to opt for a copy on DVD or check your local TV listings for broadcasting times. I highly recommend you find some way to watch this film, as it is an excellent way to see a film portray the autism experience appropriately.

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Tobenna Attah
Transmedia Entrepreneur
Tobe V. Attah is a transmedia entrepreneur enrolled as a Master's student at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. He studies Media and Education, and loves writing, editing, and collaborating with others about ideas and startups working in today's new media landscape. He has been published across a wide variety of media outlets, including Sports Illustrated, the Cornell Daily Sun, SportTechie, Clutchpoints, Cavs Nation, the Cornell Chronicle, and many more.

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