Dani Bowman Shares What She's Been Up to Since 'Love on the Spectrum'
Dani Bowman is an animator and founder of Danimation Entertainment, a company that teaches animation to youth on the autism spectrum. Dani was one of the stars of the U.S. version of “Love on the Spectrum,” a Netflix reality dating show about autistic people who are looking for love. The show was in the Netflix Top 10 for two weeks following its May 18, 2022 premiere and introduced tens of millions of viewers to Dani and her ambition to change society’s perceptions about what people on the spectrum can accomplish.
The Mighty’s senior editor Karin Willison sat down with Dani to find out more about her passion for animation, her experiences as an entrepreneur on the autism spectrum, and what she has been up to since “Love on the Spectrum.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Karin Willison: What made you decide to appear on “Love on the Spectrum”? And how did you find out about it or get a chance to be on there?
Dani Bowman: The director, Cian O’Clery, reached out to me. He saw me in the documentary “Dani 101” and thought I would be a good fit for the show. I have been busy with my animation work for so long that it’s hard to find the time to date or find the right fit. Because the guys I meet on or off the spectrum always say they could handle me being busy, but then they realize, oh, yeah, she’s really busy. I don’t have time to “hang out.” The only time I have free is when I am doing something that relates to animation, like going to animation events, the screenings, the conventions, and so on. And if the guy that I meet is not interested in animation, then it’s really difficult to relate.
I do try to like their interests. But I have a lot of phobias, too. I don’t like scary stuff like horror films or serious action films, except for superhero movies. I really like documentaries and nature films. I also don’t like amusement parks or picky eaters, because I am a foodie. So you see, it’s really hard to find someone on my own. That is why I was really excited when I was approached by Cian O’Clery and he said that the show would help me find a date.
Karin Willison: So how much did the show reflect what all actually went on? What didn’t we get to see? I’m really curious about that.
Dani Bowman: The series did reflect a lot because it scans for the issues I have when it comes to dating. However, after seeing myself on the show, I realized I came across as only caring about animation. I do love animation because it’s my life, but there’s way more to me than that. And I also learned lots of lessons that I never really thought about before. Because everyone that I dated before, I knew well before I dated. But I didn’t really understand blind dates. I thought I should act the same as a regular date. And usually, when I go on a date, I give them a kiss at the end. However, on a blind date, it’s not a good idea for me to do that. I realized I need to get to know the person better, otherwise, I could get into situations that may not work out so well.
Karin Willison: So was that one of the lessons you learned from the show? What else have you learned from being on the show?
Dani Bowman: Don’t express [love] or kiss on the first date until you get to know someone. And most importantly, I have to set my boundaries from the very beginning.
Karin Willison: What advice would you give to other people on the spectrum about dating, based on either what you learned from the show or otherwise?
Dani Bowman: Get to know the person first, make sure they understand and respect your boundaries. And most importantly, just be yourself.
Karin Willison: How has being on the show on the show changed your life? It doesn’t have to be about dating. Did it grow your social media following? Did you have other unexpected benefits or changes from being on the show?
Dani Bowman: Yeah, my social media really skyrocketed. “Love on the Spectrum” was in the top 10 most streamed TV shows on Netflix for two weeks, which is so incredible. And now they’re nominated for three Emmy Awards.
Karin Willison: From watching you on the show, I realized that you love animation. It’s everything to you. And I’m very curious, why does it mean so much to you?
Dani Bowman: It’s what I have known since I was a kid. It’s my way of communication because I was nonverbal until I was almost 6. Animation showed me how to communicate because of my autism. I couldn’t look at people’s faces. But I could look at the faces of animated characters and study their expressions. I find it the most creative medium of storytelling, because animation brings my imagination to life and helps me express myself.
Karin Willison: That totally makes sense. I’m curious, what is your favorite animated movie or show of all time and why?
Dani Bowman: Oh, wow. That’s a hard one because I have so many. I will share three. One is my childhood favorite series, “Pokemon.” Ash Ketchum is a character that I could relate to because he had amazing adventures. Ash Ketchum is actually based on the creator Satoshi Taraji, which I thought was really amazing. The second would be “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic,” because I can relate to the character Twilight Sparkle as she learns about the importance of friendships. And the last example is the Netflix show “Kid Cosmic” because the main character reminds me of my childhood and how I acted and felt so different. Not only did I walk in the shoes of one of my animation idols Craig McCracken, but the whole trilogy is definitely a hero’s journey, a philosophical lesson of what it means to be a hero. According to Kid, heroes help, not hurt. Heroes care and look out for each other. And heroes make sacrifices. The beauty of each show is how the stories are based on the creators’ real-life experiences.
Karin Willison: Who are your favorite neurodivergent animated characters, either characters that are specifically autistic or neurodivergent, or they’re coded to be, or reminiscent of a neurodiverse person to you?
Dani Bowman: I don’t know if Kid Cosmic counts as a neurodivergent character, but he does display some autistic traits, which I could relate to. However, there’s another neurodivergent animated character that I discovered. Have you seen the LGBTQ animated series “Dead End: Paranormal Park”? I love Norma. She’s such a character. And the most fun part is she’s based on the creator’s experience. Hamish Steele is on the autism spectrum.
Karin Willison: Yes, I love that show!
Dani Bowman: I don’t know if the actress of Norma from “Dead End” is on the spectrum. But I am amazed at how the creator of the show carefully chose the great voice cast to make the story feel relatable. That’s the beauty of how creators make the right choices for any representation. Barney, for example, is a trans male character voiced by an actual trans man. Authentic LGBTQ and neurodivergent representation in animation are so important.
Karin Willison: What about in the industry in general, in terms of representation? You just said that Hamish, who created that show, is on the spectrum, so that’s great. Are there other well-known creators who are on the spectrum, especially if they’re open about it?
Dani Bowman: Yes, of course. Jorge R. Gutierrez is the creator of the Nickelodeon show “El Tigre,” the feature film “Book of Life,” and the Netflix miniseries “Maya and the Three.” It’s been really incredible to get to meet him a couple of times. He is openly autistic, which is amazing, and he also has a son on the spectrum.
Karin Willison: What about opportunities for your students? Is the animation industry looking to expand representation on the employment side?
Dani Bowman: I am not sure if the studios are actively recruiting autistic candidates, though, I have met a few that have worked at major studios before. That is the reason why our mission at Danimation is that we entertain, educate, elevate, and empower people on the autism spectrum to transition their animation hobbies into an actual career that can bring their voices to life.
Karin Willison: How does it feel to be able to work with others on the spectrum in your classes? How does it feel to be a teacher and a mentor?
Dani Bowman: I feel so proud when the students develop their animation, leadership skills, and work ethics. I know how it feels to be left out, because we are underestimated in the workforce. I show my students that they can do whatever they want in life, not just animation. It’s amazing to show the world what we are capable of. It makes everything worthwhile.
Karin Willison: What advice would you give to people on the spectrum, and people with disabilities in general who are thinking about starting a business?
Dani Bowman: You’re never too young to start and don’t let anyone stop you from following your dreams.
Karin Willison: How have you coped with and grown with your autism? What kinds of things have you used to help yourself or what kind of therapies have you done?
Dani Bowman: My aunt has been my life coach for the last 17 years. There weren’t many programs for people with autism back then. So my aunt figured out how to help me to come to the world and not expect the world to come to me. I mean coming out of my shell and being out there. I don’t use any fidget toys or other typical coping mechanisms for a lot of people with autism. I used to, but I kind of grew out of them. I use earplugs occasionally when I’m going out due to loud noises. But that’s about it for me now.
Karin Willison: What kind of projects or things have you been doing since the show aired? What has been your focus since then?
Dani Bowman: Since the show aired, I just finished a couple of big projects. Last month, I finished editing a live-action short film while I was part of the CBS Leadership Pipeline Challenge. We made a short film called “Rewilding” for a nonprofit organization called Friends of the LA River. And the second one is “Parker and Boo,” which is an animated short pilot in collaboration with a nonprofit organization that addresses bullying. We’re going to be premiering it at Comic-Con in about two weeks. “Parker and Boo” is about a young girl who experiences anxiety, and she meets a talking dog voiced by the famous Rob Paulsen. It’s a pitch pilot that we are showing at film festivals, hoping one of the major animation studios picks it up. And the third one is I’m going to SIGGRAPH, a convention on new technologies.
In addition to all the projects, I have two camps coming up. I’m in the middle of teaching animation to students from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. Next week will be in Los Angeles. And then in the last two weeks of August, we’re teaching in person in the UK. I stay busy, I know.
Karin Willison: Yeah. It’s amazing though. Is there anything else that you want me to know?
Dani Bowman: I’ve got one other project to mention. I just finished the animation sequences for the upcoming live-action feature-length documentary “Schlitzie: One of Us,” about a sideshow performer who appeared in the 1930s Tod Browning film “Freaks.”
Karin Willison: Oh yes, I’ve seen “Freaks” and I’m very interested in sideshow history, so I will absolutely want to watch this. Do you know when it’s coming out?
Dani Bowman: I’m not sure when it’s coming out. But I was the lead animator.
Karin Willison: That’s really cool. I can’t wait to watch it. Congratulations on all these opportunities that you’re having. I’m very happy for you!
Dani Bowman: I’ve gotten so many inquiries, new students, and leads since “Love on the Spectrum.” I had to hire more assistants to help with the students. I have about 26 one-on-one students right now and climbing.
Karin Willison: That’s wonderful. Thank you so much, it was great chatting with you.
Dani Bowman: Great chatting with you, too.
Image via DaniBowman.com