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'Keep the Change' Tells the Love Story of Two People on the Autism Spectrum

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With a number of TV shows and movies portraying people on the autism spectrum, “Keep the Change” breathes new life into Hollywood by having individuals on the spectrum play autistic characters.

The romantic comedy is set in New York City and follows David, a wealthy 30-year-old on the autism spectrum who spends a lot of time looking at women on dating apps. David, played by Brandon Polansky, reluctantly becomes involved with a Jewish community center due to a court order for a misdemeanor. Most of the people at the center have an intellectual or learning disability.

“Keep the Change” is as much a rom-com as it is about finding self-love and acceptance. David meets Sarah, played by Samantha Elisofon, a woman on the spectrum who he first finds slightly annoying and wants nothing to do with. Through Sarah’s help and energetic, positive look on life, David learns to accept those he views as “different” as well as himself.

The writer and director, Rachel Israel, said she wanted to portray adults on the spectrum in a realistic way.

“Our ambition is to tell a love story that transcends the subject of disability and speaks to the universal need for human connection, and in the process to show how actors with autism can deliver compelling performances that are relatable to a wide audience,” she said in a statement.

Israel called autism a “hot subject,” and added that there aren’t many portrayals of adults on the spectrum, which can lead to misconceptions within the general public.

“This film could change the way we look at people on the autism spectrum and stop segregating us from other people,” Polansky said.

Polansky and Israel met 16 years ago when Polansky was at a “really low point,” he told The Mighty. Israel told him about the Jewish Community Center of Manhattan where Polansky later met a woman. The film is inspired by Polansky’s experience.

Most of the cast is a part of the Adaptations group at the community center — a place for people with intellectual disabilities to socialize and grow connections with others. Israel based the characters on the people she met at the community center, and many of them play a version of themselves. The cast includes a number of first-time actors, who are on the spectrum. Elisofon wasn’t the real-life girlfriend of Polansky, but she met Israel through the community center and loves to be on camera and act.

“I really wanted to work on this film really badly, and I really wanted to be a part of it because I wanted to show the world that I do have autism, but then I’ve got talent,” Elisofon told The Mighty. “I wanted to show the world what I can do and what I’m capable of.”

In mainstream media, many autistic characters are played by neurotypical actors. While these actors can portray a person on the spectrum, there is a talent pool of autistic individuals who are often overlooked. According to the Ruderman Family Foundation, less than 2 percent of characters on television have a disability despite 20 percent of the population having a disability. Most roles are played by able-bodied or neurotypical actors. Researchers also found that portrayals of autism tend to be stereotypical.

“One of the motivations for me in making the film was because I didn’t think that I saw very many authentic portrayals of people on the autism spectrum in feature films, and knowing Brandon and many of our other cast, they have very strongly driven personalities,” Israel told The Mighty.

“Keep the Change” premieres in theaters in Los Angeles on Friday, April 20. A national rollout will begin sometime after.

Originally published: April 19, 2018
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