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Malaysian Director Talks About Shedding Light on Autism in ‘Beautiful Pain’

TheWrap Screening Series: ”I hope society will take it as an invitation for people to learn more,“ Tunku Mona Riza says

Director Tunku Mona Riza has been gratified by the response to his new film, “Beautiful Pain,” particularly among those in the autism community that is its subject.

“This film has become a voice for them,” Riza told TheWrap’s awards editor Steve Pond on Monday at a Q&A following a screening of the film, which is Malaysia’s official selection for the 89th Academy Awards.

The film, which has screened at festivals worldwide, traces the hardships two parents face as their only son is diagnosed with autism.

The film follows the torment experienced by a mother who is struggling to put a name to her son’s unusual behavior. “He’s a late bloomer,” says the father, who can’t seem to accept that his boy is different.

Both Riza and producer Haris Solong (Riza’s husband) have not experienced autism in their own family, but Riza was drawn to the topic after learning that a professional colleague had two sons on different ends of the autism spectrum.

She spent significant time with them, took videos of them, and also brought her young actors into the fold to study the boys. (One actor plays the younger version of the boy and the other actor plays him as a teen.)

“They inspired me in terms of the characters and the mannerisms,” Riza said, adding that she also included some of her experiences with the boys directly into the film.

“I thought I knew [what autism was], but I didn’t,” said the director, explaining that it took spending time with those with the neuro-development disorder to understand more about it.

“Beautiful Pain” is the first Malaysian film about autism to ever be made, according to Riza. “I hope society will take it as an invitation for people to learn more,” she said. “Somehow, films do influence us.”