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Autism Awareness Month: Interview with ‘Pablo’ Writer and Voice Talent Sumita Majumdar

// Women in Animation

2023 marks the third year of our series of interviews for Autism Awareness Month, where we speak with those who have made stories and characters in animation that have reflected the experiences of autistic people as well as those on the spectrum themselves who have gone on to create some truly unique pieces of work that many have fell in love with on a global scale.

While many would have undoubtedly heard of Pablo, the preschool animated series about an autistic child and his imaginary friends, some may not be aware that it also features writers and voice artists on the spectrum themselves. Sumita Majumdar is one of those people, having written many episodes and even provided the voice of Wren. She joins us to celebrate this extraordinary month as she discusses her involvement in the series and her studies and career since joining this celebrated production.

Sumita Majumdar
(Source: Sumita Majumdar ©)

Could you share with us your autistic journey before you worked as a writer in animation?

I approached a school, for advice on finding something creative to do for work, and ended up doing some after-school assistant stuff there. After that, I did supply teaching, leading music art and drama sessions at various schools. Creativity really helped me at that time – art, music writing and performance. I wanted to find a way to help others use creativity in the way it had helped me. I tried to train as an art therapist at one point which didn’t work out – but I did a lot of volunteering with art and drama groups, making soundtracks for Partners Theatre Company and Reach Inclusive Arts… I assisted in a few stop-motion workshops with disabled young people and an art project with young people who were being supported for mental unwellness.

Before being diagnosed, I think I had sort of tried to push myself through what I thought the system of life was, and I didn’t know how everyone else was doing it without getting ill – or how people even knew what to do! It was difficult to manage without support, but also I was very resistant to social labels of any kind, so it was difficult to be able to be in the mind frame of accepting support if I couldn’t allow myself to identify in those ways. when I did eventually seek a diagnosis, I did it without telling anyone – I told myself it was for the documentation, to use for accessing support, rather than something I wanted to adapt my identity around – but the process I went through during that time allowed me to think more about society-frameworks, to learn more about autistic experiencing, and to understand myself alongside other autistic people whose brains and bodies did similar things to mine. Becoming involved with Pablo magically happened not too long after that, which not only further helped me to accept and embrace being autistic, but also to communicate to others about being autistic (definitely not in the way I expected to do so!)

Pablo and Friends (Image: Paper Owl ©)

What was your favourite episode to write and/or provide the voice of Wren?

I am terrible at choosing favourites – so I don’t know… when I was recording the voice parts, we all recorded them individually in the voice booth – it wasn’t like we were all together in a group – so I would be going through a list of Wren’s lines, rather than hearing all of the other lines in between – and it was often several scripts at once, so I think I processed it as one merged experience… it was a lot of fun, though…, particularly where I just had to laugh for a few minutes! In the first batch of episodes, we hadn’t met the other voice actors or writers yet – so it was really exciting to look through other people’s scripts and to relate my own experiences to things that they had written, and then for us to meet each other and find out about our similarities and differences.

Writing the episodes was fun – I co-wrote the scripts I wrote with Andrew Brenner mostly over video calls. I liked writing ‘The Super Place,’ which was one of the first ones… and ‘Everything Pineapple’ (at the time of writing, everything DID taste like pineapple – the ghost memory of drinking too much fruit juice…) The writing process of all of the stories I wrote with Andrew is memorable as the stories often related to things that were happening at the time. For example, I liked writing ‘Magic Postbox’ as I was working nightshifts sorting letters and parcels, which I loved doing, so it reminds me of that – but these immediate experiences were also combined with talking about how this links with memories and experiences of being a young child – what I remembered about that, how that related to what other autistic people’s experiences were, and what Pablo’s perspective of that could be. We would have a lot of conversations about autisticness, humanness, and sensing… – and characters would emerge (like ‘The Aroma’, or the Shouty Walls in the ‘Swimming Pool’ episode) – sometimes the characters would just say things that would make us laugh, so we’d put them in the scripts.

Since working on the show you have appeared as a speaker at the Children’s Media Conference and PARC Critical Autism Studies Conference. What was the message you hoped to achieve when you addressed these crowds? 

Since working on the show, I’ve spoken at various events, and each event I did had different purposes, with different types of people at them: some spaces were audiences of people who work in Children’s TV, and other spaces were academics, researchers, mental health professionals, and creative practitioners. It’s important to remember that people often don’t fit into just one category of people – I don’t – which is why ‘interdisciplinary’ spaces are important to me: being able to combine the arts with research and allowing myself to appear in whatever form is most comfortable for the moment. I have shared about ‘Pablo’ in most of my presentations for various purposes: to share more about the show, to share about Paper Owl Films’ process of creating the show, and to express autistic imagination and inner-world processing. I did a study on the creative process of Pablo as a psychoeducational tool, as part of the course I did (MSc Creative Arts & Mental Health), which is what I was presenting about at the PARC conference, whereas the Children’s Media Conference thing was more about my personal experience…

I hope that by speaking at these things and turning up as myself, I might encourage others to explore their communication styles to express themselves through writing, arts-making, speaking, or however, they want. There are lots of ways to do a presentation, and they can be a great way of sharing something you’re interested in.

And it’s great to be able to share about Pablo with different types of people – it’s a preschool show, so not everyone would have watched it – and even the people who have watched it might not be aware of the process behind the show, or the ways it might be particularly useful to explain certain things – perhaps in an accessible way, due to being a pre-school animation. I also hope that by sharing about Pablo, more people might think about inner-mind multiplicity (having different parts of you trying to figure things out – like Pablo and his Book Animal friends) – to help people realise, or remember, that is a part of processing – and how that relates to the performance of our selves (how we express, as our outer-body – which can be different depending on the scenario or who we are with)… it is okay to have conflicting parts of us, it’s about how we co-exist with them (and each other).


For your dissertation towards the MSc, you explored psycho-education and what you learned when working on Pablo. What was the biggest takeaway from this research that you hope to continue working on, whether towards another show or another new project?

My dissertation was about the creative process behind Pablo being a psychoeducational tool, for self-awareness, social understanding and mental wellness. It also unjumbled some things about autistic imagination, and how there are misperceptions about this (e.g. reading a bus timetable can be a social, creative activity – it’s not necessarily less imaginative than reading fiction). It also recognised thinking through inner-worlds / inner-mind characters not just being ‘dissociation’, but also being ‘association’, which I think is important in de-pathologising some imaginative processing styles (such as Pablo’s!) There was so much I wanted to write about that wouldn’t fit in the word count, so I’d love to continue the research – alongside making practical, useable, accessible imagination tools for mental wellness, and to continue creating spaces that offer Permission to Be.

One significant result of the study was how the show helped autistic people to better understand other autistic people, as well as themselves. Before it was made, Pablo was initially intended to help people who aren’t autistic to better understand and empathise with autistic people, to hopefully lead to autistic people having a better experience in the world; but the study highlighted the show’s potential to help autistic people better understand and empathise with other autistic people, similar and different to themselves. It’s a reminder of people’s contradicting and conflicting access needs, differing autistic presentation styles – and the diversity of people’s processing styles in general, whether autistic or not. I’m excited to continue observing the Pablo process as it unfolds – but I’m also excited about immersing myself into other inner-world story-play animation spaces, and to keep observing things through different lenses.

Pablo Series Three (Image: Paper Owl ©)

How do you feel the current slate of animation productions has represented these neurodivergent and mental health conditions and what more do you think could be done?

I really like going to things like the London International Animation Festival – I like watching things which feels like people taking stuff out of their brains and putting them onto a screen, and get that “my brain does that, too!” feeling. I’m interested in more work that combines research and personal experiences, from multi-angles – things that offer some sort of reframing, and questioning such as the work Alex Widdowson has been doing with his films Drawing on Autism and Divergent Minds, for example. Animation has a certain kind of flavour of communication in comparison with other films, which can be a step towards possible solutions in the shared outer world.

Maybe I don’t watch enough to know about ‘the current slate,’ but I do really value animation as a way of expressing, explaining, and learning about your inner-mind. I think this makes animation a great tool from all sides of the screen (making it, watching it, sharing it), and I think more people could be encouraged to try it out – even if it’s not for TV. I think there could be more pathways for neurodivergent people, including people with ‘mental health conditions’, to enter and explore animation, as it’s a great communication tool, and I think a lot of people would appreciate its immersion. Paper Owl Films launched the Pablo Academy, which aimed to recruit neurodivergent people for a placement, and I became a supporting Neurodivergent Mentor as a part of that – I think more things like that would be great… but I’m also interested in providing more opportunities, such as workshops, or creative toolkits, for people who haven’t been exposed to animation or who might not have given themselves a go. I’ve assisted on a few animation workshops with disabled young people, and I’ve got some coming up with Can’t Sit Still Theatre’s ‘Being Me’ project (aimed at autistic young girls and non-binary people.) But how do people find a way of continuing that after one-off projects like it – and how they get into doing that for work, if they want to? Perhaps studios could team up with these sorts of projects to help to bridge that.

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