Autism is Agape – Looking through the lens of acceptance
By Karen Krejcha
Local teenage filmmaker, Imani Chapin, has two younger brothers on the autism spectrum. She loves them immensely and advocates for their acceptance. Recently, Imani created a beautiful short film called Autism is Agape to shine a light on what autism looks like in one family, her own. She hopes viewing the film will empower others.
Tell us a little about yourself and your relationship with the autism community.
My name is Imani Chapin (age 16), and I am a junior at Union High School in Camas, WA. I am one of four siblings, with one younger sister and two younger brothers; their names are Asjia (age 10), Kaliq (age 12), and Mekhi (age 14), respectively. Kaliq and Mekhi both have autism. However, despite both brothers being affected by the disorder, the two are on opposite ends of the autism spectrum. Mekhi is almost entirely non-verbal, while Kaliq is extremely verbal!
What inspired you to create Autism is Agape?
Autism is an extremely important part of my life; if Mekhi and Kaliq did not have autism, I would be an entirely different person. Living with siblings on the spectrum can be difficult and frustrating at times, but I am more than grateful for the opportunities it has given me and the experiences I have lived through. I wanted to make Autism is Agape because I have found so many people who know nothing about autism; if anything, they can rattle off the dictionary definition. However, there is so much more behind the label of autism, and, through my video, I wanted to show others why autism can be frustrating, but why it is also so unique and beautiful. Autism is my life, and I want others to hear my voice.
What is the film about and who does it include?
Autism is Agape is a video about my life experiences with siblings on the spectrum. The film has no speaking, but is instead set to the song To Make You Feel My Love, sung by Maisy Stella. The film is about three and a half minutes and I use different words to describe what autism means to me, each getting about thirty seconds of attention. The video includes me and my family: Asjia, Kaliq, Mekhi, and my mom, Angie Chapin.
Why did you choose that name for your film?
I chose the name “Autism is Agape” for the film because the word “agape,” to me, is both the best and the worst term to sum up autism: autism is selfless-love (the definition of “agape”), but autism is also selfish-love. Autism is selfish-love in that, at least in my house, my brothers face few consequences, have unchecked angry outbursts, make choices for themselves that affect the rest of us, and dictate when and where we do things. This is the frustrating part of autism. On the other hand, autism is selfless-love. Although my brothers often struggle with showing their love, they are incredibly and genuinely kind, never intend to hurt anyone’s feelings, and, even with their disorder, sometimes put others’ wants and needs above their own. Even more so, autism is selfless-love by the way parents and siblings give up so much to make their sister, brother, son, or daughter happy.
How long did it take to film and edit?
I filmed over a period of about three weeks. Some scenes took longer than others because they were staged rather than naturally-occurring, but, overall, shooting the film took a short amount of time. I tried to film certain activities and events as they were happening, which was the main reason for multiple weeks of filming. Individuals with autism often take everything literally, which also makes it difficult for them to act unlike themselves or to recreate a scene. Therefore, I had the most success when my brothers were unaware that I was filming them, and they were busy with their routines.
What was your favorite part of making this film?
My favorite part of making this film was having the opportunity to view the life of my family through a new lens. By filming the video as an outsider, I learned more about myself and my family. I am also proud to share my family’s story with the world.
What do your brothers think of the film?
I don’t know if my brothers have understood the impact of my film, but I do think they enjoy watching themselves! Mekhi, specifically, loves to watch himself in the mirror and in videos, so any chance he gets to see himself on screen is exciting for him!
What has been the response from others?
I have received countless positive responses from others. I love sharing the video with families from the autism community because of the immediate connection they feel with my family and me, but I also love sharing the video with others who know less about autism, because as they watch the film, I get to witness their minds become a little more open, and their hearts a little bigger.
Where has your film been shown so far?
My film has been shown to many family members and friends who live in the Pacific Northwest. I have also screened it at the United States Autism and Asperger Association World Conference in Portland this last August. It was very enriching to see my film on a big screen, being shown to a room full of people. I hope to do something like this again in the future, where I also have the opportunity to speak on behalf of the video and of autism itself for an audience.
What are your goals for this film?
My goal for improving the community is to be the voice for individuals and groups who are underrepresented, including individuals with autism, and empower them to advocate for themselves, through the motivational power of film and volunteering.
My dream is to work for Pixar Animation Studios as a film director, screenwriter, or story artist. If I were ever in such a position, I would create an animated film with a main character who has autism. I believe that the world needs to open their hearts to all different types of people, which often comes through the use of film; however, autistic characters are rarely represented in the media, so I want to be one of the first filmmakers to use the media as a platform for spreading autism awareness, giving back to the community, and inviting others in.
What takeaway messages do you want viewers to experience?
I have different hopes for different viewers regarding the takeaway messages they feel after watching my film. I hope individuals from the autism community feel less alone in the often confusing and frustrating world of autism. I hope these viewers watch my film and come away thinking the film was about their own families, because my intention was to tell the stories of everyone in the autism community. For others, I hope they find my video to be enlightening and, more importantly, challenging to their beliefs. We grow the most when we view an issue from a new perspective; if one viewer’s perspective about autism changed in a positive way, I would feel successful. Many people who have heard of autism only know the scientific definition, but there is so much more to an individual with autism than a definition will ever encompass. I hope these people get a small glimpse into what autism truly is through my video.
Do you have any other autism-related films coming soon?
I will definitely be making more films about autism soon, but have no specific plans to announce yet. I have an idea that I would love to turn into a short film, but this would either require actors (which would be difficult with Mekhi and Kaliq!) or animation (which would take a lot of time); I will, though, be exploring the possibilities of my idea in the near future!
How can Spectrums Magazine readers view Autism is Agape and your other work?
Autism Empowerment has Autism is Agape available for viewing on their YouTube channel. (For your convenience it’s also embedded above.) The link is: http://bit.ly/autismisagape.
This year, I have also been filming bimonthly motivational videos for my school. I have created three so far, with my most recent being about fall, change, and embracing failure. I have made over 200 Morning Motivation videos for Union High School as well. My two YouTube channels are included below; if you are in need of uplifting inspiration, please visit them and subscribe!
Imani Chapin: http://bit.ly/imanichapinyoutube
Reach Higher: http://bit.ly/reachhigheryoutube
This article was originally featured on pages 8 -9 in the Winter 2017 edition of Spectrums Magazine by Autism Empowerment. An extended version with Q & A we weren’t able to fit in the magazine will be added here soon!