On Friday 4th November, the 41 North Film Festival featured the film Life, Animated directed by Roger Ross Williams. Life, Animated shared the journey of a young adult, Owen Suskind, who is on the Autism Spectrum. The Suskinds found out Owen was on the Autism Spectrum when he was about 3 years old. Owen was not as verbal as he used to be and the family witnessed a significant shift in his attitude. Owen loved to watch Disney movies so the family used this as a way to bond with him. The family had a life changing moment during Owen’s older brother’s, (Walter’s), birthday. After the party was over and Walter’s friends had left, he began to cry. Owen went into the kitchen where his mother and father was and said “Walter is sad because he doesn’t want to grow up like Mowgli and Peter Pan”. After Owen had been nonverbal and doctors told his parents not to get their hopes up about him forming complex thoughts, this was the moment Owen overcame obstacles. Owen used Disney movies such as The Little Mermaid, Peter Pan, and Lion King to make sense of the world around him. He used the movies to help him understand his feelings, thoughts, and relationships.
Growing up, Owen was a victim of bullying and he had to leave a school because he was not learning as quickly as the other children. Owen was homeschooled by his mother for two years. He called this moment in his life his Dark Place. He did not see himself as a hero like Hercules or Simba. Owen created a story and named himself the Protector of Sidekicks. In the story, an evil villain is trying to harm the sidekicks and Owen has to protect them. Even though Owen doesn’t see himself as a hero, many people do. Owen brought together community members who also loved to watch Disney movies. While they watched the Disney films, they paused major scenes in the movie and reflected on how that scene relates to how they felt and their life. Owen found his passion and his own way to communicate and understand the world around him. At the Multiliteracies Center, we help students with different forms of communication and translating their thoughts into their assignments. Just like Owen found his passion and a way to communicate through Disney movies and characters, we encourage students to find their passion while writing and help with ways to communicate their ideas effectively. Anyone who watches Life, Animated can take something away from Owen’s inspiring journey.
Neffertia Tyner, Multiliteracies Center Coach