Viewer’s Discretion: ‘The A Word’ and ‘The Exhibition’


Based on an Israeli show called “Yellow Peppers,” this British series centers a family in a small English village that would probably be considered typical as they face the autism diagnosis of their son.

The focus here is Joe (Max Vento), at the start of the series 5-years-old and beginning to have problems in school that his parents aren’t keen to attribute to autism. And over the course of the two-season series both mother Alison (Morven Christie) and father Paul (Lee Ingleby) exhibit plenty of doubt and turmoil that stem from their grappling for how they are supposed to feel about their son’s condition, what it actually means and whether they can sync their emotions long term.

But the characters who really grab your attention are the ones being affected on the periphery. Joe’s half-sister Rebecca (Molly Wright) faces her future at high school graduation, but struggles to find her place in her family with the new situation and figure out how it defines her. Christopher Eccleston takes a rare comedic turn and applies the same intensity as he does any of his drama roles as Joe’s grandfather, trying to figure out his own place in Joe’s life while coming to terms with his widower status and what that means in his attraction to his music teacher.

There are two pitfalls the show could fall victim to — becoming one-note in the area of plot and also becoming either way too cloying or depressing. It mostly avoids these problems by an expansive viewpoint tracing how the diagnosis affects other family members, and also by presenting the humor in the situation, including the autism itself. Joe is obsessed with pop music, particularly lyrics and release dates, and that provides fuel for amusing interaction and even some touching moments.


While focusing on the worst serial killer case in Canadian history, “The Exhibition” manages to move beyond that one true crime story and expertly follow the more important threads that have unwound as a result. While so much in the true crime genre lately comes across as crime porn, “The Exhibition” is a work that talks about ideas and people without fetishizing the brutality at its center.

The crimes took place in Vancouver during a period from the 1990s to the murderer’s arrest in 2002, uncovering evidence of the brutal murders of 26 women, with confessions to nearly double that. The victims were almost entirely marginalized women — sex workers and addicts, often First Nations, and almost entirely dismissed by police when reported missing.

So affected by the case and the story of the women is artist Pamela Masik that, in 2006, she embarks on a series of large-scale portraits of the women called “The Forgotten,” which begins to get attention locally and raise the ire of advocates for the victims’ families, and some of the families themselves. When the work is pegged for a major show at the Museum of Anthropology, the debate over the paintings explodes.

“The Exhibition” has a lot of ground to cover and it does it extremely well, juggling information with emotion with skill, but also presented opposing views with equal fairness and sympathy. In part, this is a film about the responsibility of art and its institutions to the communities around it, as well as an examination of the nature of an artist’s choice of subject and even the processes, both creative and financial, that move these works along with a path.

But it is also very much about the way we view sex workers and how that endangers their lives, about power’s disregard for the marginalized, about the white world’s racist dismissal of the misfortunes of the native population, particularly the women in that population. Colonialism and police corruption are at the core of these issues, and the film explores these.It’s also about stories — who is allowed to tell certain stories? Are we required to tell stories about victims in only certain ways and not others? Who owns a victim’s story? And do members of the elite have the right to tell the stories of the marginalized?

These are big questions, but “The Exhibition” addresses each. The film was made in 2012, but the questions linger, and in some ways, have become larger and more crucial as they’ve gone unaddressed.

Originally published at

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