I Was Dragged Out Of A BFI Screening. Here's What I Hope It Teaches People About Autism

Society needs to stop fearing what it doesn't understand
Tamsin Parker

On Sunday, the 29th of April, I was dragged out of the BFI screening of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly for laughing loudly at the film’s wicked sense of humour.

It was the evening after my 25th birthday. I had been excited for over a month to see my current favourite movie ever. I had rounded up a couple of friends to go and see this movie with me and had hoped that they would understand me better from watching the film, as I had related strongly to the protagonist, Tuco Ramirez, a feisty, impulsive and funny outlaw. As I came into the theatre I whooped with joy and yelled, “I’m so excited!”. I promised myself that I wouldn’t comment on the film or imitate the character’s laugh. I would just let myself be immersed in the film. So I tried not to talk, but the ensuing complications made it difficult, and finally, impossible.

For the first half hour I was happily enjoying the film. Then the film got to the gun shop scene. I found the scene funny because Eli Wallach, who played Tuco, was improvising with gun parts. Wallach hated guns and had no use for them. It was the timing and expressions that made it so funny and I was laughing raucously. Then I heard a man shouting, “Shut up, bitch!”, and another man yelling, “It’s not that funny!” This really shocked me.

Later the audience started laughing at something else. I felt it was hypocritical because they got upset at me for laughing. I mimicked the man who verbally abused me. As one Facebook commenter pointed out, “she’s not blameless”. Of course I wasn’t but I was still upset at what he had said. I have been brought up to stand up for myself.

The staff kept coming up to me and telling me to keep it down. I was surprised at this and annoyed because I was distracted from enjoying the film. The manager told me to laugh less loudly, and I told her I didn’t understand. If I found something funny, I laughed. The man sitting next to me said, “Why are you laughing at all the cruel parts?” I said, “They’re cruel, but funny.” He protested and I said, “Each to their own.” He also said, “There’s four hundred of us and only one of you.”

At a scene in the missionary, the audience laughed at something again. I laughed along with them and then said, a little louder than I had intended, “It wasn’t that funny.” This was my final warning. The staff came back in. My friends who were watching the film with me tried to defend me to the staff. Two security guards came and tried to ask me to leave, but I wouldn’t, I wanted to finish the film. They pulled me out of my seat without a chance to go back for my bag, and frogmarched me to the exit. The crueler audience members applauded my departure. I apologised to everyone, I honestly admitted that I didn’t mean it, and the ones closest to me said, “Yeah, right.” As I got to the door I said, “I can’t help it, I’m autistic.” A man shouted back, “You’re retarded!” I was dragged to the security office and not allowed back into the theatre. I was distraught that I wasn’t going to finish the film that I loved so much and that I had ruined my own enjoyment of the film as well as everyone else’s. The manager said, “If you’d told us, this wouldn’t have happened.” How could I have known?

I also had no idea that the BFI had etiquette for how you’re supposed to react to a film.

A Twitter user recently complained that my “disability isn’t very apparent”. This presents three problems with society. First, the whole point of autism is that it’s a neurological condition, so it’s not supposed to be apparent.

Second, it’s the 21st Century and there are still stereotypes about autism: a little boy flapping his hands, a young man hitting his head against the wall, etc.

Finally, society fears what it doesn’t understand. And it’s always going to take donkey’s years, or more accurately tortoise’s years, to process that certain types of people are different from others. It’s always going to mature much slower than individual people precisely because of those fears.

This makes it more difficult to make changes for the better and ensure that something like this never happens again, although the feat is not impossible.

Why hadn’t it happened before, though? Last year, at the BFI, I laughed that loudly through Seven Samurai, and I never got in trouble.

I suppose it depends on how a film is perceived. Both Seven Samurai and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly have great humour, although I suppose the latter is viewed with the gravity of one of Leone’s other films, Once Upon a Time in the West.

I thought it was well known that The Good, the Bad and the Ugly did have lots of humour, and in places one usually doesn’t expect. I didn’t realise that some people would take it seriously.

Autistic people are judged in public all the time. But children are more easily forgiven than adults. People seem to think that autism ends at adulthood, but since adults are expected to restrain themselves more and hide everything different about them, their treatment is more harsh, more unforgiving and more judgemental. And they’re surprised, every single time, when an autistic adult openly expresses themselves just because they act how they feel.

I think that to make sure something like this never happens again, society needs to stop fearing what it doesn’t understand, and they need to stop fearing being judged themselves.