The short film ‘The Real Me’ centres on Neurodivergent Artist Eleana Re. Pairing vivid imagery with diary-like dialogue it depicts how she relates to her diagnosis. Commissioned by BBC Ideas, with the help of the arts collective Carousel, it will be released this year to the BBC Ideas Platform. It’s an honest, layered and extremely tangerine exploration of Neurodivergent nuances. Interview by Emma Robdale
Eleana squashes an orange into smaller and smaller segments. The juice spurts out, running down her fingers… Anyone who knows Eleana, will also be aware that she’s dedicated to orange; the taste, touch, smell and color.
“The film is basically about orange… and what it’s like for me. The orange is always messier on the inside.”
Eleana has a synthetic relationship with the color, and describes an ‘affinity’ with it. Her house is decorated predominantly with orange ornamentation:
“I’ve got a bit better recently… I bought a camera. There was an orange one I really liked, but there was a better quality one…It was black. I went for the black one. Previously I would have always bought the orange.’
Other than that she finds it ‘warm’, she’s not sure what gives her such strong kinship, but remembers that when eighteen, her dad bought her a rose plant, and her affection sprouted around then. In one scene she explains how, though she would like to brandish herself from head to toe, she often tones her orange down,
“I normally wear beige, but there’s always a bit of orange peeping out. There’s an ‘inside’ and ‘outside me’….I’d like to be the person that I am really, but to fit in, to make friends, this is what I’m told I have to be.”
In the next scene she comically displays herself as a ‘cool’ tangerine gangster, stating, “What’s not to love?” A dark undertone to this vibrant short is that Eleana has experienced negative reactions to her individuality. As an ND individual myself, I understand too well how differences can be made hard by rejection and isolation. Many Autistic and ‘Aspie’ women face diminishing differences by ‘masking’.
Eleana also feels that some NT (Neuro-typical) people, when they do not know of her diagnoses, do not give her a chance, perhaps mistaking her as shy, unapproachable or odd… So she tells them so they’ll become more inclusive. I understood, but was troubled by this. Going forward, I hope NT society becomes more accepting of differences whether or not diagnosis is known. I asked Eleana what she wanted people to take away from the film,
“I want people to understand me. How I feel. See my strengths, and also be able to relate to my struggles. In more wide terms I’d like it to help people understand mental health a bit better.”
With the help of arts collective Carousel, a group that assists artists with learning differences, ‘The Real Me’ took two months of storyboarding and was created in two intense days of filming. ‘The Real Me’ embodies Eleana’s energy and style. Much of the artwork in the background stems from her other projects; at the end a bright spiraling sun is seen behind her, which is an enlarged section of embroidery she created. “It was awesome how they animated the needlework!”
The director, David Parker, wanted the film to depict a more ‘true’ representation of Neurodivergence. To aid this most of the script is improvised so Eleana’s real voice can beam through,
“Even when dressed in bright clothes, and I’m looking happy superficially… I can be feeling manic. You never see the core of someone. Only you know what’s inside.”
Many difficult and sometimes frightening experiences involved with mental health conditions are not open to outsiders; they are personal and often hidden. Eleana commented:
“OCD isn’t all about cleaning. Most of it is beneath. In your head, and thoughts can be very disturbing.”
ND individuals can feel cut off by being misunderstood. By creating this film Eleana has chosen to unveil some very private revelations.
Eleana starts, ‘The Real Me’, by asking; “What’s normal anyway?” This is a question almost everyone has asked/ screamed/ sobbed. What is normal? And, why have so many ND individuals come off badly for not achieving it? Eleana has sectioned ‘The Real Me’ into parts that creatively show how Eleana relates to three of her diagnoses:
A-Typical Autism – dressed as a gangster she talks about ‘masking’ to fit in.
Mania – the orange wall blackens, representing how mania can cause her to feel distressed or despondent.
ADHD – she is depicted dancing into a huge spiraling sun.
Something I personally find terrifying about being a neurodivergent individual is disclosure; the thought of neurotypical people discovering my diagnosis causes me intense discomfort and paranoia; so I asked Eleana, How does she find the strength to be so open?
“I don’t see it (diagnosis) as a downfall. I don’t see it as a fault. It’s an addition. It makes me a bit more quirky. Sometimes some things can be hard, but my differences make me interesting.”
I hope to one day feel as comfortable as Eleana around disclosure, but feel that the ways in which neurodivergence, mental health conditions and learning difficulties are viewed still have some distance to go. Eleana’s advice to me was: “I find that most people are just intrigued. You’ve got to give them a chance!”
What I really appreciated about ‘The Real Me’ is that it is not solely about Autism, Mania or ADHD. A lot of ND coverage fails to demonstrate the multi-faceted nature of diagnosis. Dr. Stephen Shore, a renowned autistic professor, famously stated, “If you’ve met one person with autism… you’ve met one person with autism.”… But, could have more accurately said, “If you’ve met someone with OCD, ADHD, Autism and Dyslexia, you’ve met one person with OCD, ADHD, Autism and Dyslexia.” I asked Eleana how many diagnoses she had: “I don’t know! I haven’t counted them up!”, and in ‘The Real Me’ she wished to portray that, “People are never just one thing.”
“People have loads of traits of different things. They’re complicated. Complications can be useful and advantageous. They feed into my creativity, and make me interested in different things. If you’re Neurodivergent, you probably don’t have an average way of seeing things. I hoped my perceptions could be of interest to others.”
‘The Real Me’ is earnest and intelligent in its representation of how Eleana wishes to portray being Neurodivergent. An important step for corporations to take is to start representing neurodivergence not as ‘fascinating’ or ‘incomprehensible’, or inherently ‘dreadful’ and ‘debilitating’…. ND artists need to be given opportunities to authentically display their own projects. Eleana voiced that her art does not have any particular rules or constraints, but she always seeks for it to be imprinted with her own individuality:
“Other people can learn something from being inside my head. That’s why I do art… so my perspective can be accessible to everyone. Images can be louder than words.”
Eleana is currently on a judging panel selecting other films by ND artists to be displayed alongside hers at the Oska Bright Film Festival due to happen The Old Market in Brighton from 23-26 October 2019.