This afternoon, James Gunn shared a very special post with all of his Facebook and Twitter followers. While on the surface it's another Guardians Of The Galaxy story that everyone is going to share. But there's a lot underneath the surface of this very simple, very human story. Grab some tissues.
In this story, a moviegoer talks about how their autistic younger brother identified with Drax The Destroyer. As part of his condition, he cannot comprehend metaphors; much like Drax's literal mindedness in Guardians Of The Galaxy. The fact that he shares this with Drax made him realize, as the fan relates to us in their post, "He's like me! I can't do metaphors!"
With this inspiration, the younger brother has been inspired to "tell everyone he knows that people with autism can be superheroes."
This post is the "in a nutshell" example of what good superhero movies like Guardians Of The Galaxy can do for an impressionable young audience. With its ragtag group of misfits -- who each possess a certain quirk, a certain ability, and an identifiable personality of their own -- Guardians Of The Galaxy has taught this child, and could teach the rest of us, that we can all be heroes. Heroes like the Guardians Of The Galaxy are supposed to teach us that we can do anything, as long as we have the right mindset and are pure of heart while doing so. Personal medical conditions, disabilities, or perceived "flaws" mean nothing to the heroic mindset. Professor X uses a wheelchair, The Hulk has anger management issues, and yes, even Iron Man has a medical prosthesis that keeps him alive through modern medicine.
What superheroes can, and should, teach us all is that to be a hero, you don't have to fit a certain mold, look a certain way, or be anything but your true self. Now this might seem problematic in a world dominated by the likes of Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Batman; but the industries of both film and comic books are fast learning the lesson we've been cheering and chastising them to learn. That lesson is if you can't find a hero you can identify to, it just means that hero hasn't been created yet. We live in a world where Thor will be a woman, Ms. Marvel is now a Muslim teenager, and Captain America is an African American. Imagine the countless kids that have seen these portrayals, and have finally allowed themselves to indulge in the fantasy that all of the other kids have had the luxury of dreaming of themselves: that notion that they too could wield great power and uphold great responsibility.
James Gunn gets people. He understands how they tick, how they learn, how they love, and how they hurt. What Guardians Of The Galaxy proved is that he's had a different way of showing it than what we're used to seeing. Even if you go back and watch Super, the film which probably got him the Guardians Of The Galaxy gig in the first place, you can see that his protagonist played by Rainn Wilson is going through some tough times in his life, and may have some undiagnosed psychological conditions. While his efforts in becoming his own hero are ultimately misguided, he ultimately does become a better, more stable person out of the whole deal. He lets go of his ex-wife, allows himself to be happy for her happiness, and starts to live a more well adjusted life. If Guardians Of The Galaxy is inspirational to children, then you can bet that Super is the adult version of that very same story.
The fact that a child with Autism could identify with Drax The Destroyer, and any of the other Guardians Of The Galaxy, ultimately shows us the positive power of superhero movies, as well as movies in general. It's because of this sort of personal attachment that we encourage filmmakers and film studios to produce films that everyone can at least take a small piece of the action home to call their own. This doesn't mean that we need to pander to everyone and cater to every whim all of the time, but it does mean that we should be keeping a closer look on how we represent various groups and persons of different backgrounds in our entertainment.
On behalf of movie geeks everywhere, I say thank you James Gunn. Thank you for showing us once and for all that in the immortal words of David Bowie, "We can be heroes."