After watching three screenings of Keep the Change at the Tribeca Film Festival, I still can’t believe my eyes. My daughter on the autistic spectrum played the female lead in a movie at a major film festival! Who would have dreamed that my baby girl—who’d once shrieked, rocked, and stared into space—would grow up to be an actress (let alone star!) in a love story? Answer: Nobody, not even me on my most upbeat and optimistic day.
Just when I thought life couldn’t be any more exciting, Keep the Change actually WON for Best New Director and Best Narrative Film at the Tribeca Film Festival! Samantha was even nominated for Best Actress!
These Tribeca awards are not only a huge and well-deserved win for Director Rachel Israel, my daughter, the entire cast and crew; but winning at Tribeca is also a victory for everyone on the autistic spectrum who has ever been ignored, misunderstood, bullied, underestimated and marginalized. I couldn’t be any more thrilled and proud of Samantha and everyone involved in Keep the Change, a surprisingly humorous and touching love story. A round of applause for all their years of hard work—rehearsing, filming, fund raising, and above all persevering against the odds in the face of great uncertainty.
The victory of this small independent film should help open the door for disabled actors everywhere to begin portraying characters with disabilities. If nothing else, Keep the Change has proven that individuals on the spectrum are capable of expressing the deepest and most universal of human emotions—love—both on and off screen with power, humor and grace. Maybe now casting agents can begin to recognize that actors with autism are actually better and more authentic than most neurotypical actors attempting to imitate them.
In today’s bad news, post-truth world, it’s about time for some truly good news to emerge. With the success of Keep the Change, children on the spectrum who grow up wanting to be actors and performers can actually see a success story that I hope will help inspire them follow their own dreams—whatever they are. People with autism don’t have to automatically resign themselves to becoming clerical workers, computer programmers or grocery baggers. Like all people, individuals on the spectrum can think (and act!) outside the box, and contribute to the world in their own unique and creative ways. If autism families encourage their kids to pursue their talents and work hard enough to persevere through myriad challenges, the entertainment world really should give actors on the spectrum a chance to tell their own stories with the authenticity that only they can offer.
My daughter was lucky to have had the amazing opportunity to co-star in this wonderful and unique film. However, she also worked very, VERY hard to become the character she portrayed in the film: the quirky but confident Sarah. Director Rachel Israel gave Samantha and the rest of the actors in Keep the Change an unparalleled opportunity and everyone won, including the mainstream audience. That’s definitely a change worth keeping!