Why You Shouldn’t Support Autism Speaks

Every April is Autism Acceptance month, and although it’s over, it’s always a good time to remind people not to support organizations that are harmful and discriminatory towards people with autism, namely Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks is the world’s most well-known autism advocacy organization as well as one of the largest, but it is certainly not the most helpful. In fact, it has sparked several controversies among the autistic community over the years.

Autism Speaks was founded in 2005 by Bob and Suzanne Wright after their son was diagnosed with autism. Its mission is to seek treatments and cures for autism spectrum disorders, and it spends lots of money on researching the causes of autism. On April 2, President Donald Trump made a statement supporting the organization and commemorating their annual event, Light It Up Blue, which is meant to spread autism awareness.

The logo for Autism Speaks.

The logo for Autism Speaks.

The clear problem with this is that Autism Speaks spreads stigma and prejudice against autistic people. They see autism as a disease and have even compared it to AIDS and cancer. In reality, autism is simply a mental condition that makes certain people go through life differently than those who are considered “normal” by society. Autism Speaks also has no autistic members on its Board of Directors, so a group of people with flawed perceptions about autistic people are making huge decisions about their entire community without their consent or input. It caters more towards parents of children with autism, hoping to alleviate the so-called “struggles” of raising a child with a developmental disability. Very few of their funds actually go to helping autistic people, with most of their money spent on research and marketing. Most of their advertising spreads harmful stereotypes about autistic people. Furthermore, Autism Speaks has been working to advance prenatal testing so that if a fetus is autistic, its mother can choose to get it aborted. This is similar to the prenatal test for Down syndrome and, in a worst-case scenario, could end up eliminating autistic people for good.

While autism can definitely be hard to deal with, Autism Speaks’ motive is certainly not the solution. Most people with autism would prefer not to be cured, because although autism does not define them, it plays a large role in who they are as people. In addition, autistic people don’t want “awareness.” They want acceptance. Plenty of people know what autism is, but not as many go so far as to understand and help people with autism. We need people to be more understanding and supportive, especially since Autism Speaks sees autistic people as less than human.
If you’re looking for alternatives to Autism Speaks that actually support autistic people themselves, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) is a great choice. Many of its members are autistic and their goal is to find ways to spread autism acceptance and to provide autistic people with better ways to cope in our discriminatory society. You can also donate to the Autism Women’s Network (AWN) and Self Advocates Becoming Empowered (SABE), and be sure to educate yourself and others about autism so that you know what’s most helpful to the autistic community.

Album Review: Dear Evan Hansen

If a tree falls in a forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

You’d initially think the answer is yes, but what if I asked you to search for a deeper meaning? What if the tree represented a person? Does it matter whether it makes a sound or not if no one’s there to hear it?

That’s the premise of the new Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen. With music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, it tells the story of Evan Hansen, a high school senior with social anxiety disorder who gets himself involved in a tragedy that he has no right to be part of. When his classmate, Connor Murphy, kills himself, Evan lies to Connor’s family about having been his friend. His lie leads him to develop a close relationship with the Murphys (especially their daughter, Zoe, who he has a crush on), achieve popularity, and feel loved and self-confident for the first time in his life… until everything comes crashing down before him, forcing him to fix the mess he’s made.

Poster for Dear Evan Hansen, which was just nominated for 9 Tony awards, including Best Musical.

Poster for Dear Evan Hansen, which was just nominated for 9 Tony awards, including Best Musical.

The songs are remarkable. The orchestra consists of guitar, strings, drums, and piano, giving the soundtrack a contemporary feel. The heartwarming ballad “If I Could Tell Her” seems like it is just that, but it’s actually pretty manipulative–Evan essentially uses Connor’s death to admit his feelings for Zoe. He tells her all the things he loves about her, but claims that Connor was the one who said them. Still, it’s a sweet song, and it gives us insight on both who Zoe is as a person and just how infatuated Evan is with her. The Act 1 finale “You Will Be Found” is a soaring anthem for anyone who has ever felt alone or unloved. It tells us that there is always a way to find light if you are stuck in darkness. All you need to do is ask for help, and someone will hear you and reach out. Then there’s “Good for You,” in which Evan finally gets admonished for everything that has happened, primarily by his mother, Heidi. Heidi lashes out at Evan for rejecting her to spend time with the Murphys. As a single mother, she has worked so hard to support herself and her son, and she deserves more than for him to make her feel like she’s not good enough. Meanwhile, Evan starts to realize that his lie has spiraled out of control, and he wonders frantically how he can fix the situation, fearing there is no solution. Other great songs include “For Forever,” in which Evan tells a false account of a day he and Connor spent together; “Requiem,” in which we see each of the Murphys individually react to Connor’s death; “Only Us,” a love song between Evan and Zoe; and “Words Fail,” in which Evan finally confesses the truth.

But the true standout of the album is “Waving Through a Window,” which takes place at the beginning of the show. In it, Evan reflects on how he’s spent his life watching from the background, always observing and never experiencing. He never speaks up lest he get noticed and judged by others. But now, he starts to realize that because he never gets noticed, very few people know he even exists. Evan broke his arm by falling out of a tree before the events of the show (hence its logo of an arm in a cast), but what we don’t know yet is that the fall was actually a suicide attempt. The fact that no one want to sign his cast only worsens his loneliness. “When you’re falling in a forest and there’s nobody around, do you ever really crash or even make a sound?” he sings, and repeats, until he escalates to, “Did I even make a sound? It’s like I never made a sound, will I ever make a sound?” To question whether you matter to people is one of the most depressing things one can experience, and this is a question that has been circling around in Evan’s mind for months at least. It’s heartbreaking and honest, but also hopeful. The musical truly understands what it’s like inside the minds of people who feel lost and unseen, and so it reaches out to them and reminds them that they are not alone and that they matter.

The amazing thing about the show’s soundtrack is how much you can empathize with the characters. What Evan does is definitely wrong, but he isn’t portrayed as a completely bad person; rather, he’s shown as a teen who longs for understanding and connection and who finds himself in a situation he feels he can’t get out of. He still isn’t excused from what he’s done, but one can understand why he does it: he doesn’t want Connor’s family to know how isolated their son was, and he’s never gotten this kind of attention and affection from anyone before. Ben Platt, who plays Evan, perfectly captures the character’s inner turmoil and yearning for being heard. His performance feels authentic; oftentimes it seems like he’s not playing Evan, but he’s being Evan. And Rachel Bay Jones, who plays his mother, has incredible range. She displays so much strength in her performance that it’s a pity she’s not in more songs. The entire cast is superbly talented; though it only consists of eight people, everyone fits their role perfectly and together they make a great ensemble.

My one complaint about the soundtrack is that there’s a lot of information that it leaves out. If someone listens to the musical but can’t afford Broadway tickets, there’s a lot that they will miss out on. Nowhere in the album does it mention that Evan tried to kill himself, and it leaves out several other important plot points as well. While the soundtrack is 57 minutes in total, the full show lasts two and a half hours, so we miss out on more than half of the show’s content, which is unfortunate. But the content that we do get to listen to via the album is quite memorable and there’s no doubt it’ll get stuck in your head.

Dear Evan Hansen is a perfect starting point for people who are interested in listening to Broadway soundtracks but don’t know where to start. It doesn’t have as many songs as most other musicals, the music is catchy, and it’s incredibly relatable. If you’ve ever felt like an outsider longing to fit in, this is a great musical for you.

Rating: 9/10

Cyclone Debbie Devastates Australia

On Tuesday, March 28, Australia was hit by Cyclone Debbie, a category 4 storm comparable in damage to Cyclone Yasi in 2011.

The storm primarily struck the Queensland coast, hitting Airlie Beach, Hamilton Island, Proserpine, Bowen, Collinsville, and Mackay. Although not the worst storm to grace Queensland, it was incredibly large, and there has been a substantial amount of flooding as well as destruction of houses and buildings. Walls, roof tiles, and glass windows were blown away by winds at 260 km an hour. In addition, a bull shark was found washed up on land in Ayr, Queensland, prompting authorities to order people to stay away from floodwaters. Around 50,000 people were reported to be cut off from power. Many are in desperate need of fuel, food, power, water, and shelter.

Satellite image of Cyclone Debbie.

Satellite image of Cyclone Debbie.

During the storm, Queensland’s premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, expressed concern for those who could not contact emergency services. She also urged people to stay indoors, saying, “If you have plans tonight to go out and see friends, to see neighbors, to travel, please do not. Stay in your home; this is for one night. I need to have the roads clear for our emergency services personnel if they do need to go to the assistance of people.”

Cyclone Debbie’s damages will cost Australia billions of dollars, bringing a massive hit to their economy. It was hard to determine the exact amount of damage at first, with so many people unable to access emergency services. Now, however, we know that the disaster zone is 1,000 km (600 miles) wide. It is also known that four people have died because of floods, and at least three are missing. The destruction of rail lines will take five weeks to repair. Floods are reported to be around the same size as Texas. People are expecting lots of rain in the aftermath of the cyclone, which will last until around Thursday.

Stephen Hawking Will Go to Space

Famed cosmologist and physicist Stephen Hawking will travel aboard Virgin Galactic into outer space.

The news was revealed when he was interviewed on Good Morning Britain, where he stated that Richard Branson, who founded the Virgin Group, offered to take him to space for free, and he “said yes immediately.” At 75, he will be the second-oldest person to ever travel to space, after Buzz Aldrin, who was 77 at the time of his historic trip to the moon. In addition, he will be the very first person with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) to travel to space. In most cases of ALS, affected people do not live within five years of the disease’s beginning. However, Hawking was diagnosed at 21, and although he is paralyzed, he is completely alive and well 50 years later. He communicates using a cheek muscle attached to a communication device.

Stephen Hawking is one of the most brilliant minds in the field of science.

Stephen Hawking is one of the most brilliant minds in the field of science.

In 2014, Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft, the VSS Enterprise, suffered an accident in the Mojave Desert that killed one of their pilots and injured another. Since then, they have been working to develop safer and better commercial spacecraft and hope to bring people to space via commercial flights in the near future. The date on which Hawking will go to space is currently unknown.

In the interview, he compared the joy of being able to go to space to the joy his three children bring him. He also discussed President Donald Trump, who he had called a demagogue on a previous occasion. Although America “is still a place I like and admire in many ways, I fear that I may not be welcome,” he said. He also believes that Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, should be replaced. “Climate change is one of the great dangers we face, and it’s one we can prevent,” he said. Trump has stated multiple times that he thinks climate change is a hoax.

Hawking’s trip to space won’t be his first time in a low-gravity environment. In 2007, he went on a zero-gravity flight on a Boeing 727 jet, which he greatly enjoyed, and he is excited to experience it again. “I thought no one would take me,” Hawking said of finally having the ability to achieve his lifelong dream.

Upcoming Disney and Pixar Films

It was recently revealed by Walt Disney Animation Studios that the sequel to the Oscar-nominated film Wreck-it Ralph is scheduled to be released on March 9, 2018, which means that it officially comes out less than a year from now. The movie will be about Wreck-it Ralph and Vanellope Von Schweetz exploring and wrecking the internet. As of now, the sequel does not have an official title.

Rich Moore, who directed the first film, will team up with Phil Johnston to direct the sequel. John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch, and Alan Tudyk will return to the screen in their original roles. Jodi Benson, James Corden, and Ana Ortiz were also announced as cast members, though their roles are currently unknown.

Concept art for Gigantic.

Concept art for Gigantic.

Disney’s next upcoming animated film, Gigantic, is an adaptation of the classic fairy-tale Jack and the Beanstalk. It will be directed by Nathan Greno, who directed Tangled. In the movie, Jack will climb up a beanstalk and encounter a 60-foot-tall eleven-year-old girl named Inma, as well as several other giants such a the evil Storm Giants. The score will be written by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who won an Oscar for their work in Frozen.

Pixar also has several films coming out in the next few years. Cars 3 is coming out on June 16, and it is about Lightning McQueen’s life after a crash that forced him to retire from racing. He gets trained by another car, Cruz Ramirez, to race again. Another future film is The Incredibles 2, which will be written and directed by Brad Bird and released on June 15, 2018. In addition, the Toy Story franchise will be getting yet another sequel. This film, Toy Story 4, comes out on June 21, 2019 and centers around the lives of the toys now that they have a new owner, as well as Woody and Buzz’s search for Bo Peep, who did not appear in the third film.

Coco is the only original Pixar film that has been announced for the next few years.

Coco is the only original Pixar film that has been announced for the next few years.

Coco is the only upcoming Pixar movie that is not a sequel. It follows a boy named Miguel who dreams of becoming a musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz. When he gets whisked away to the Land of the Dead, he meets a skeleton named Hector who assists him in his journey to discover and learn more about his family history. Coco will be released on November 22 and its first trailer came out on March 15.

There are so many upcoming films for Disney and Pixar fans to get excited about, but there is much we still don’t know about them. Fortunately, we only have a few years to wait until they hit the big screen.

“Hamilton” Star to Join the Cast of Broadway’s “Great Comet”

Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowan, who played Hercules Mulligan and James Madison in the Broadway hit Hamilton, is set to replace Josh Groban in the new musical Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.

Onaodowan will play Pierre, a wealthy aristocrat going through an existential crisis. Groban will depart the show on July 2, and Onaodowan will replace him the day afterward and stay until September 4. This will be his fourth Broadway show after Cyrano de Bergerac, Rocky, and Hamilton.

Okieriete Onaodowan at the opening night of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.

Okieriete Onaodowan at the opening night of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812.

The musical, often called simply Great Comet, is an electropop adaptation of a seventy-page portion of War and Peace. Onaodowan, the son of Nigerian immigrants, will play opposite Denée Benton as Natasha, so the two leads will be played by black actors despite the show taking place in nineteenth-century Russia.

“Having the opportunity to have two black actors star is, to me, irrefutably huge,” Benton said to the New York Times about the casting choice. “Actors of color definitely feel the limitation to have to tell the stories the world has decided are your own, when if you look at the breadth of characters handsome white males can play, they’re given access to the whole range. It’s exciting to have that same opportunity.”

Onaodowan, who is known for his range and versatility as an actor, will have to learn to play the accordion and focus more on singing than rapping, giving audiences a chance to see more of his skills. “It’s very different from what I’ve done before–there’s a lot to dig into,” he said.

Predicting the Winners at the 89th Academy Awards

[Note: This was posted after the Oscars but was written beforehand.]

2016 has been a great year for movies. We’ve gotten another Star Wars movie; a live-action adaptation of The Jungle Book; two new films added to the Disney animated canon; a bunch of great superhero movies; and a fantastic Harry Potter spinoff, to name a few. One would expect the 89th Academy Awards to be very exciting, considering the vast number of wonderful movies that came out this year. However, they have been almost entirely dominated by the colorful, jubilant movie musical, La La Land, which received fourteen nominations, tying the record set by All About Eve and Titanic. It is poised to win Best Picture, the Academy’s highest honor, as well as Best Director, Best Actress for Emma Stone, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, and a number of others.

Nostalgia runs deep in La La Land, which is reminiscent of movie musicals from the '50s and '60s.

Nostalgia runs deep in La La Land, which is reminiscent of movie musicals from the ’50s and ’60s.

But is La La Land really the best movie of the year? Although it wowed critics and those in the movie industry, it also has its share of detractors. Many have criticized it for its lack of diversity, especially since it centers around a white man trying preserve traditional jazz, which was created by black people. Additionally, the screenplay is fairly weak; if you take away the happy tunes and bright colors, it’s just another straight white romance. At times, it feels a bit like it’s trying too hard to be a masterpiece. And Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, the film’s two leads, are just mediocre singers. Still, all this is unlikely to stop La La Land from winning several awards. It provides an escape from reality, something people especially long for during the current political climate. The music is catchy, and the film looks utterly beautiful. Plus, the Academy loves movies about Hollywood. If La La Land wins Best Picture, it would be quite unfortunate that the award would be so predictable and unexciting. It is highly unlikely that it won’t get the honor, but not entirely impossible.

Moonlight, which has eight nominations, is the only film likely to block La La Land’s path to victory. It is the transcendent coming-of-age story of Chiron, a gay black man growing up in poverty in Miami. When he is bullied by his peers and abused by his mother, he learns to shield his true self away from everyone for his own protection. It’s a reminder of the repercussions we face when we persecute others and when we refuse to open up to people. In a time when everyone tells you to love yourself and be yourself (statements that feel more empty the more we hear them), writer-director Barry Jenkins gave us a beautiful, poignant film showing what could happen if we don’t. Rarely has there ever been a movie more deserving of the Best Picture Oscar.

In one of the many awe-inspiring scenes of Moonlight, Juan teaches a young Chiron how to swim.

In one of the many awe-inspiring scenes of Moonlight, Juan teaches a young Chiron how to swim.

This year had countless movies with strong performances from leading actresses, so it’s a shame that Emma Stone will be the one to come out on top (and that Meryl Streep was nominated for the 20th time over the likes of Amy Adams, Annette Bening, and Taraji P. Henson). Sure, Stone was great in La La Land, so great that it’s almost easy to forget how underdeveloped her character is. However, it’s not hard to act as an aspiring actress when you were once an aspiring actress yourself. Natalie Portman, on the other hand, deals with much harder work in Jackie, playing Jacqueline Kennedy in the days following her husband’s assassination. Yet somehow, she does it perfectly. With the help of Mica Levi’s eerie score, Portman devastatingly illustrates the grief and sorrow that haunts Jackie each day while at the same time maintaining a smiling facade for the public.

Casey Affleck seemed like a shoo-in for Best Actor at first, after having won the Golden Globe and the Critic’s Choice awards, among many others, for his performance as a janitor haunted by his troubled past. But Denzel Washington’s surprise win at the SAG Awards shook things up, and Affleck’s sexual assault allegations from 2010 have also clouded his path. Affleck is still the frontrunner, but it is certainly possible that Washington could beat him and win his third Oscar. Both actors give astonishing performances. Affleck subtly and devastatingly shatters on the inside, while Washington explodes with fiery passion. Either one would be a worthy winner in the category, but if Washington wins, he would ignite far less controversy than Affleck would.

Viola Davis might as well already have her Oscar. She does amazing work in Fences, matching and even outshining the talent of Denzel Washington. It feels wrong to call it a performance, because it feels like she isn’t acting the part, but effortlessly being the part. That being said, fellow nominee Naomie Harris filmed her role in Moonlight in a total of three days with no rehearsals, and she stuns audiences with her harsh, heartbreaking portrayal of Chiron’s crack-addicted, abusive mother. Davis fully deserves her Oscar, but Harris’s work is brilliant as well and should not get overlooked.

After being nominated for Doubt, The Help, and Fences, Viola Davis is the first black actress to have three Academy Award nominations.

After being nominated for Doubt, The Help, and Fences, Viola Davis is the first black actress to earn three Academy Award nominations.

Supporting Actor frontrunner Mahershala Ali plays Juan, a warm-hearted drug dealer who becomes Chiron’s father figure in Moonlight. Many were moved by his character, who does not have much screen time but uses the time he has to bring inspiration, support, and encouragement to both Chiron and audiences. He will most likely and deservedly win the Oscar come Sunday.

The Best Animated Feature category should be a tighter race than it is. This year was a great year for animated movies, and all of the contenders are beautifully animated and highly original. Perhaps the most inventive of the five nominees is Laika’s Kubo and the Two Strings. Set in Japan, it tells the story of a boy who can magically influence origami with a three-stringed guitar. Aided by a monkey and a beetle, he sets out on a quest to save his family from the evil Moon King and find out what happened to his samurai father. It’s unfair that Kubo will lose to Zootopia, which is a great movie but nowhere near as breathtaking as Kubo’s visuals, stop motion animation, and innovative, dark story.

The 89th Academy Awards take place on Sunday, February 26th and are hosted by Jimmy Kimmel.

America’s Cutest Competition

One of the greatest highlights of Super Bowl Sunday is putting everyone’s differences aside, gathering in front of the TV, and watching a bunch of puppies run around a tiny football field. While some may enjoy watching actual humans play football, others choose to watch the canine version, known as the Puppy Bowl. The Puppy Bowl began in 2005 and was originally conceived to be like the Yule Log, filming puppies playing around with dog toys in a small football field for twelve straight hours. However, the program garnered an unexpected 5.8 million viewers. Since then, the Puppy Bowl went from a simple program to a full-on annual event, and went through many changes. For example, the Puppy Bowl is still aired on Animal Planet for twelve hours, but much of that time is spent on the pregame or on replaying the Bowl. It is initially aired from 3 to 5 p.m. so that it does not conflict with the Super Bowl. Many new features have been added throughout the years, such as the Kitten Halftime Show, a Dairy Queen-sponsored Kiss Cam, animal cheerleaders (such as rabbits, guinea pigs, and chickens), a live-tweeting bird named Meep, and competition between Teams Ruff and Fluff, which has been in place for three years so far. It is also sponsored by many companies, from Geico to Subaru to Pedigree. The Bowl is pre-recorded three months in advance and shot for two full days, so what viewers see on television is only the best of what happened during the shoot. Nowadays, the event often gets over ten million viewers each year and is one of Animal Planet’s most-watched events.

Teams Ruff and Fluff compete in the Puppy Bowl XIII.

This year, the Puppy Bowl made significant history in many ways. Team Fluff ended Team Ruff’s two-year winning streak, beating them for the first time with an unprecedented ninety-three points. Tucker, an Australian Shepherd mix and the captain of Team Fluff, took home the Lombarky Trophy, one of the many new additions of this year’s Bowl. Some other new features included mascots for each of the teams (a screech owl for Ruff and a chinchilla for Fluff) and the inclusion of three dogs with special needs: Winston, a hearing and sight impaired Australian Shepherd; Doobert, a deaf English Pointer; and Lucky, a three-legged terrier who was also the recipient of the Underdog Award. A Cocker Spaniel/Bichon Frise mix named Nikita also made history by becoming the first dog to use the referee’s flag to score a touchdown, and she also scored two other touchdowns and one field goal. She was a strong contender for MVP (Most Valuable Pup), yet lost to a Poodle mix named Rory who scored three touchdowns early on in the game.

All of the puppies that participate in the Puppy Bowl are living in either shelters or foster homes and are seeking a “forever home.” The ultimate goal is to get all of the participating puppies adopted every year, and oftentimes this goal has been achieved. This year, Animal Planet has brought attention to dogs with special needs, reminding viewers that they are no less worthy of adoption than their able-bodied peers. Although most of the dogs who compete have already been adopted before the Bowl airs, people can still adopt their siblings if they are still available for adoption. But overall, adopting any puppy from a shelter is important. When Animal Planet puts adorable, adoptable puppies on the small screen, it raises awareness of animal adoption and prompts people to adopt dogs in need of a loving home.