One of my favourite stories to tell is the story of inspirations. Back in the 1960s it was pretty rare for a black person to be on scripted American TV; and when they were, they tended to play subservient roles such as maids or waiters.
However during this time a young Whoopi Goldberg would see the character of Uhura (played by the black Nichelle Nichols) on NBC’s Star Trek. According to Goldberg herself:
“Well, when I was nine years old Star Trek came on,” Goldberg says. “I looked at it and I went screaming through the house, ‘Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!’ I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.”
As you know Goldberg would go on to become a world famous actress. But she in turn would inspire others, as nearly 50 years later, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o and comedian Leslie Jones both credit Whoopi Goldberg with the inspiration for going into acting.
I know what you’re thinking. What on earth has this got to do with The Accountant? Has Ben Affleck suddenly become an inspiration for black people? Don’t worry my friends, we’re getting there…
At a young age Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) was diagnosed with a high functioning form of autism. However, said diagnose has not held him back and he grows up to be a forensic accountant for several criminal organisations.
Needing to lay low, he takes a legitimate job auditing a robotics company run by Lamar Blackburn (John Lithgow), and ends up bonding with one of their accountants, Dana Cummings (Anna Kendrick.)
Alas both Christian and Dana are forced to go on the run as the uncovering of a $61 million embezzlement means that certain forces would prefer if both of them became permanently silent.
Affleck is able supported by half dozen or so A-list cast members, with the scenes between him and Kendrick being an absolute delight. Jon Bernthal also deserves a special shout as he brings a special brand of wackiness and humour to his villainous role.
Alas the structure of the film leaves a lot to be desired as certain characters are vastly underused (in the case of Kendrick, she disappears for an entire act!), though props must be given to the editor, Richard Pearson, who tries to paper over these cracks. But regardless of these flaws, there is one aspect that elevates this film above many others this year.
More often than not, films centred around people suffering from a neuro-developmental disorder tend to be of the Oscar-bait variety. Too often stories of those with a disability/disorder are used to pull at the heart strings rather than show the wide variety of roles such a person can inhabit within our society.
But in making the choice to portray autism through the lens of an Action/Thriller, director Gavin O’Connor and his crew have turned what could have been sentimental muck into a far more engaging and interesting portrayal of autistic life.
Don’t be mistaken, I’m in no way saying that this is a 100% believable vision of an autistic life. But in the same way that John McClane isn’t meant to be a realistic portrayal of an average New York cop, The Accountant shows that regardless of whatever the average person perceives you to be, you can still find a place in society.
The Accountant won’t be winning Oscars anytime soon, but what it does do is similar to what Nichelle Nichols and Whoopi Goldberg did all those decades ago. Somewhere in the big wide world, there is a 15 year old boy or girl who has just seen someone like them be the hero. In 20 years I hope to hear their story.