Why does the Geek Girl character on Netflix never use the term “autistic”?

The teen series Geek Girl, with Emily Carey, is a hit on Netflix. The atypicalities of the heroine, Harriet, refer to autistic traits, but the word autism is not spoken in season 1. Why this choice? The author of the books, involved in the series, explains how this experience reflects her past as an autistic teenager who was not diagnosed at the time.

Behind its appearance of freshness, Geek Girl does not lack depth. The new British teen series from Netflix presents a highly endearing heroine: Harriet, played by Emily Carey (seen in House of the Dragon). The ten episodes of this first season tell the story of how this teenager, considered geeky and outcast in her high school – to the point of being bullied at school -, discovers an environment that has nothing to do with her initial passions: fashion.

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Many Internet users have recognized in Harriet the characteristics of an autistic person, and are surprised that the word is never spoken in the series. Could this be a “coded autistic” character (a questionable representation which consists of drawing inspiration from alleged traits of autism to construct a character in its own right) without being so?

Holly Smale, author of the original young adult novels and involved in this Netflix adaptation, answered this question in a thread : no, Harriet is not codedAnd Geek Girl relates his own autobiographical experience. She details her narrative treatment of autism.

“Harriet is autistic. It's not 'coded'”

It all comes from Holly Smale's experience during her teenage years. In her thread, she confirms: “ Harriet is autistic. It is not 'coded'. It is not 'subtly presented as' » being autistic, she clarifies straight away. For one simple reason: Holly Smale is herself an autistic person. Harriet was presented as autistic, written as autistic, played as autistic. By an autistic author and an autistic actress », she recalls.

“I am (autistic). It’s an authentic casting, don’t worry”

Emily Carey

On this subject, moreover, the actress Emily Carrey has repeatedly confirmed her neuroatypicality. “ When the casting was announced, fans of the book — whether they already knew me or not — wondered if I was actually autistic. I'm. It's an authentic casting, don't worry ”, she declared on TikTok, For example. In fact, body language, in particular, is very important in its interpretation.

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The series deals with the school bullying experienced by Harriett. // Source: Netflix
The series deals with the school bullying experienced by Harriett. // Source: Netflix

One question remains: why is autism never mentioned in the Netflix series – during this season 1 anyway? Here again, it is a question of sticking to the books and, thus, to its autobiographical dimension. “ In the books, Harriet is NEVER described as autistic, because I'm Harriet and I didn't know I was. It doesn't make her any less autistic in the books either », explains Holly Smale. So, Harriet is not simply “coded” autistically, she is simply not Again diagnosed as such.

“Geek Girl is based on me and my life — my experience was being undiagnosed, which is a VERY different journey and is at the heart of the story. »

Holly Small

It was important for Holly Smale to narrate this experience of an autistic teenager not knowing her own neurodivergence. “ Geek Girl is based on me and my life — my experience was being undiagnosed, which is a VERY different journey and is at the heart of the story. Much of Harriet's confusion, bewilderment, and self-loathing comes from the fact that she DOES NOT KNOW. Lack of diagnosis is key to the plot », explains the author.

Harriet and her best friend Nathalie. // Source: NetflixHarriet and her best friend Nathalie. // Source: Netflix
Harriet and her best friend Nathalie. // Source: Netflix

Not only is this an autobiographical key to the plot, but, according to Holly Smale, it touches on a more universal dimension among autistic adolescents: “ What's more, 80% of autistic girls Harriet's age also go undiagnosed. It is therefore a common experience. Not all of us have the benefit of early diagnosis. There are many fabulous stories featuring diagnosed autistic characters who know who they are — this is a DIFFERENT STORY. »

“80% of autistic girls Harriet’s age also go undiagnosed. It is therefore a common experience. »

Holly Small

There is also a problem of temporality: the story of season 1 takes place over a week, at most. “ Asking Harriet to self-diagnose, be evaluated, be diagnosed, treat this and be out of it in ONE WEEK is…impossible. Even in the world of television. The waiting list in the UK (for such a diagnosis) is around three years. »

The character of Harriet in Geek Girl is played by Emily Carey. // Source: NetflixThe character of Harriet in Geek Girl is played by Emily Carey. // Source: Netflix
The character of Harriet in Geek Girl is played by Emily Carey. // Source: Netflix

Holly Smale adds that another argument motivated the creative team to stick to the letter of this approach, which shaped the books: to make “ a series about a teenage girl, who happens to be autistic ”, so that his humanity remains universal. “ Some people identify with her because she is anxious, insecure, or clumsy. Harriet has the right to exist as an undiagnosed human being. »

There remains the question of the adults in the series. Here again, Holly Smale refers to what she describes as “real life” for autistic teenagers: “ The reality is that they don't always know, or don't understand, or don't always understand what to do. They don't always see it, even when it's right under their noses. I speak from experience. »

A small variation, however, with the works, is in a dialogue between Wilburg (Harriet's manager) and Harriet's father. Wilburg seems to grasp the young girl's divergence and pushes her father to help her in this direction. The dialogue remains tenuous. In the event of season 2, could this become a more prominent subject in the series? Holly Smale simply clarifies that the choice to evacuate the diagnosis only concerns season 1, so perhaps this could develop in new episodes.

Emily Carrey in Geek Girl // Source: NetflixEmily Carrey in Geek Girl // Source: Netflix
For further
Nicole Ferroni in Aspergirl // Source: OCSNicole Ferroni in Aspergirl // Source: OCS
Source: Numerama EditingSource: Numerama Editing

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