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I’m Kat! Professional Storyteller & Neurodivergent Creative

Maybe we SHOULD talk about Bruno 🐀

Published about 1 month ago • 3 min read

KAT VANCIL

THE STORYTELLER'S SAGA

QUEST 58

Well hello there, Reader,

I hope you’ve been enjoying this month’s focus on autistic representation in stories.

We’ve covered a brief history of autistic-coded characters in visual media. And seen 3 stories that perfectly capture the autistic experience.

But now let’s talk about when a story really misses the mark, vilifies an autistic person, and makes a catchy musical number out of it. Bet you can’t guess which story I’m going to pick.

Want to guess? Ready. 3…2…1—

Encanto.

Not what you had in mind at all was it, Reader? I mean it’s Disney.

Don’t get me wrong, I wanted to like Encanto. Trust me, I did.

Catchy songs. Beautifully expressed and imaginative musical numbers. A story about a girl being ostracized by her family—and to an extent the rest of her village—because she was different.

What’s not to love…right?

Well, there’s one thing. And it’s a HUGE thing.

The main “villain” of the story for a majority of it wasn’t the matriarch Alma Madrigal, who was the source of all their family strife. But instead the autistic uncle no one made any effort to even try to understand.

For 50 years!

And that’s more than a little problematic.

Think I’m reading too much into it? I’m really not.

Even the official Wikipedia entry agrees:

…Bruno, who was vilified and scapegoated for his gift of seeing the future, disappeared…

Which means when you look beyond the dazzling imagery and well-written songs you find, not a monster or typical Disney supervillain, but instead fifty-year-old Bruno. An autistic member of the Madrigal family—villainized because his own family failed to understand his good intentions and his gift.

A kind person who was more or less forced to live in the wall with rats 🐀 for decades. All while his family continued to treat him like the bogeyman and blame him for all their misfortunes.

And it’s not like the storytellers made it hard to follow or understand what happened to Bruno. They did sing a whole song about it, after all.

But despite that, the majority of viewers completely missed the toxic abuse committed against this autistic character. Though I guess it’s not that surprising.

Modern media has come a long way in snuffing out problematic plot lines and representation, but it’s never perfect. And sometimes it gets it incredibly wrong. This, unfortunately, was just one of them.

While watching Encanto, I kept waiting for that moment so typical of Disney films when the family Madrigal would all realize they’d been horrible to Bruno and take actions to fix things.

To apologize to him and make amends for decades of mistreatment considering they sang a whole freaking song about him being a horrible human being. It’s sorta core to Disney’s whole brand. You get a moral message to be better and grow as a person along with the magic and talking animals.

But it NEVER happened.

Not one word of apology from them.

But you know who did apologize? Bruno. To them.

Yep. When his family finally got around to realizing he wasn’t a monster (or the villain of the story) he was the one who had to explain himself. And apologize to them.

And that’s a HUGE problem. Because not only was is it enraging to watch, it’s a toxic message to give children.

Because we learn through the media we consume, and a story like this teaches autistic children that it’s their own fault when others misunderstand them.

That they should and must apologize for their own neurodiversity.

That they deserve the be punished for their own differences.

And I’m sorry, but that so NOT okay.

So yeah, “We don’t talk about Bruno” may be a catchy award-winning lyric, but I think he deserves to be talked about.

I think the abuse he suffered for and from his family needs to be talked about. Because if we don’t talk about it, Reader, we will never have a world where autistics are truly accepted.

Your cohort in storytelling,

Kat Vancil

🐱

PS 👉 I’ve started a list of media with autistic representation on my site. So if you have any recommendations you’d like to offer, Reader, just hit reply and let me know. I’d love to hear them.

PSS 👉 I wrote a poem for Autism Awareness Month called I am 1 in 36 if you’d like to check it out.

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I’m Kat! Professional Storyteller & Neurodivergent Creative

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