Creative Sensemaker: What to read, watch and listen to this weekend

A woman cradling the head of a younger woman on her chest

A rundown of new books, films, music and more by Tortoise Media, the slow news agency

By Matt d’Ancona

Welcome to the latest Creative Sensemaker from Tortoise Media.

Some movies are terribly important, while others are importantly terrible. Sia’s directorial debut, Music (Apple, Sky VOD), definitely falls into the latter category. It tells the story of Zu (Kate Hudson), a drug dealer who becomes the reluctant guardian of her autistic half-sister, Music (Maddie Ziegler). A neighbour, Ebo (Leslie Odom Jr), tries to help out, and he and Zu are romantically drawn to one another.

Principle among the film’s many defects is the disastrous portrayal of Music’s autism. From the earliest scenes, Ziegler – who is neurotypical – resembles an amateur performer who has watched Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of Raymond in Rain Man (1988), made a few adjustments, and plunged straight in with a random cluster of tics, groans, spasms, eye-rolling and sudden outbursts that delivers no sense of authenticity or serious research.

Even more worryingly, the film depicts long-outmoded methods of physical restraint, with Ebo pinning Music to the ground barely 25 minutes in, declaring: ‘I am crushing her with my love!’. As Zoe Gross, founder of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network has said: ‘The autistic community has been fighting for decades to end the use of restraints that traumatise and kill.’ Tens of thousands have already signed a petition demanding that the film be stripped of its Golden Globe nominations.

The justified outrage the film has prompted is leading to a much-needed discussion about the representation of neurodiversity in modern culture, and neurodivergent performers are now speaking up – and being listened to. 

While the many attempts to depict neurodiversity in film and television since Rain Man have undoubtedly raised awareness, they’ve also tended to reinforce stereotypes – such as the misapprehension that neurodivergent people have extraordinary cognitive or creative abilities. They also demonstrate the all-important difference between depiction and representation: these roles have not been performed by neurodivergent actors. While many Hollywood stars have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, only recently have neurodivergent performers felt able to assert themselves as the actors best-equipped to represent life with autism on screen or on stage.

In 2017, Mickey Rowe made theatrical history as the first neurodivergent actor to play the lead role of Christopher Boone in the Tony Award-winning play, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time (based on Mark Haddon’s acclaimed 2003 novel). In November, he wrote: ‘I am a talented autistic actor who has been told to my face the exact same words that Sia tweeted to the autistic community. And I am not alone. There are so many incredibly talented autistic actors. But why take my word for it? After being cast in “Curious Incident”, the same people who told me that it couldn’t, or even shouldn’t, be done changed their minds.’

The paradox of Music is that one of the worst films of the year may yet, inadvertently, have a positive impact and spawn a breakthrough in creative representation. 

Do sign up to the next Tortoise Creative Sensemaker Live on Friday 26 February at 6.30pm GMT, at which we’ll be exploring the lockdown phenomenon of simultaneous Twitter streaming.

Here are this week’s recommendations:


Two men walking along the street


Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson 
This eagerly anticipated debut by the 26-year-old British-Ghanaian writer does not disappoint, tracing the ebb and flow of a relationship between a photographer and a dancer who meet in a south-east London pub. Azumah Nelson interweaves personal and social themes – love, ambition, racism, violence – with grace and delicacy of touch.

Everything Must Change! The World After COVID-19, ed. Renata Avila and Srecko Horvat
There is no shortage of books plotting a path out of the pandemic, but what appeals about this collection of essays from contributors including Noam Chomsky, Slavoj Žižek and Shoshana Zuboff, is its eclecticism, radicalism and readiness to think incautiously.

A woman stood in front of a wall of photos with a mug of coffee


I Care A Lot (19 February, Amazon Prime)
Marla Grayson (Rosamund Pike) has perfected the con of persuading judges to appoint her the ‘legal guardian’ of the elderly – or so she thinks, until she meets her match in Jennifer Peterson (Dianne Wiest), whose son, Roman (Peter Dinklage) is a seriously menacing mobster. An irresistible satirical thriller.

(23 February, Netflix)
This is much more than a by-the-numbers sports documentary. The only footballer to win three World Cup titles, Pelé, now 80, reflects on what it means to become the personification of a nation’s identity: the very incarnation of Brazilian hope. The answer is bittersweet: the best part of victory, he says, ‘isn’t the trophy. It’s the relief.’

An abstract album cover featuring a man's face
A classical album cover


TYRON by slowthai
The Northampton rapper’s second album is a tremendous sonic experience, drawing its title from his real name (Tyron Kaymone Frampton). ‘CANCELLED’, his collaboration with Skepta, is especially good.

Cello Music From Proust’s Salons by Steven Isserlis and Connie Shih
Not, sadly, a newly discovered recording from the Belle Époque, but the next best thing – an imagined soundtrack to the milieu of Marcel Proust, curated by Isserlis, including works by Saint-Saëns, Franck, Fauré, and Duparc. 

Good Light In by FONN
The debut single by FONN (aka Fionn Connolly) manages to be both catchy electro-pop and dappled with an appealing strain of psychedelic otherness. Road music for the cerebral. 

That’s all for now. Take care of yourselves – and each other.

Best wishes,

Matt d’Ancona
Editor and Partner
Tortoise Media

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