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Autism portrayal spurs protest

A group of activists plans to attend the Friday opening of the “United States of Leland” to determine whether the film’s portrayal of an autistic boy is a replay of “vicious stereotypes.”

Ellen Sweeney, 32, of Brick, N.J., began protesting the movie after it was screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 2003; she said she has collected about 1,900 signatures on an online petition against the film. Sweeney, who has not seen the film, is the mother of a 7-year-old boy with autism.

She said she fears that moviegoers will leave the theater with an “obscure impression of what autism is” that will be overshadowed by the sympathy they are supposed to feel for the film’s main character -- a teenager who murders an autistic child.

Sweeney has asked Stephen Drake, of Illinois-based disabilities rights group Not Dead Yet, to mobilize the group’s 30 national chapters to screen the movie and issue a statement.

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