It’s no longer the 1980s, Major Dodson quipped, likely referring to Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of an autistic savant in “Rain Man.” Nowadays, he said, movie characters with autism ought to be played by actors on the spectrum.
That’s exactly what happens in “Tyson’s Run,” an upcoming film starring the 18-year-old Dodson, who is autistic.
“We’re in a much more inclusive time now with casting,” he told Faithwire during a recent interview. “It’s very important to have people who are actually on the spectrum portray characters who are on the spectrum. It’s not the 1980s anymore. There are just so many other actors out there … who are on the spectrum and who fit these requirements, so to speak. It’s just really cool to see that people are understanding that.”
“It makes me feel good,” the actor added.
Dodson — and his character in “Tyson’s Run” — are undoubtedly representative of many Americans who have rarely seen themselves portrayed on the silver screen. According to 2018 data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 1-in-44 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
The movie itself grapples with many of the real-life issues children diagnosed with ASD and their parents face.
According to the film’s synopsis, the movie chronicles the journey of 15-year-old Tyson Hollerman, who is entering public school for the very first time: “While helping his father clean up after the football team, Tyson befriends champion marathon runner Aklilu. Never letting his autism hold him back, Tyson becomes determined to run his first marathon in hopes of winning his father’s approval.”
“Tyson’s Run” — a powerful tale of forgiveness and family — is already sparking positive change.
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Dodson told Faithwire the film’s director, Kim Bass, has heard from parents who said seeing the movie helped them realize they need to be better mothers and fathers to their children “who may have their own special needs.”
For his part, the “Tyson’s Run” star said he spoke with a neurodivergent father whose daughter identified with his character in the movie.
Dodson, who has also acted in “The Walking Dead,” “American Horror Story,” and the 2014 movie “Left Behind,” said it has been rewarding to see how the forthcoming film has already “positively impacted people.”
The film is resonating with so many people, Dodson explained, because it deals with real-life struggles that often exist between parents and their neurodivergent children. In the movie, Tyson’s father doesn’t believe he can run a marathon.
“His father just doesn’t believe that he can do it, and that translates real-world into, ‘You can’t go and do this because something bad will happen,’ ‘You can’t go and do that because you’ll get bullied, you won’t succeed,'” Dodson said. “It’s these kinds of fears that float around in the air that kind of hold these kids back. So his father … finds how to forgive himself for that reluctance.”
Tyson, on the other hand, learns to forgive his father by “finding his love and his acceptance for who he really is.”
In many ways, Dodson himself has been a beneficiary of the kind of love, and care Tyson longed for from his father in the movie. The teenage actor said a great source of hope in his life has been his family.
“I wouldn’t be an actor, a voice actor, or here in Los Angeles for any reason other than the support of my family,” Dodson said. “My mom, she’s been my acting coach over the years. My dad works hard to keep us sustainable here. That support over my whole life — and especially the last two years — it’s been difficult for everybody, but it’s just been enlightening to see everybody in my family kind of come together to stick it out, be careful, and support each other.”
“Tyson’s Run” is debuting in theaters nationwide March 11.
You can watch our entire conversation with Dodson in the video embedded above.
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