The Netflix original film, Amateur, is on its surface a story about a young kid hustling to make it to the NBA. But it goes beyond that. It explores the ways recruiters and universities take advantage of aspiring players, and the narrative even creates a space for discussion of a learning disability called dyscalculia. The disorder affects a person’s ability to learn, understand and process mathematics, as we see throughout Amateur.
“I discovered a version of dyslexia that was restricted to numbers—thus the other term for dyscalculia, “numbers blindness”—and I actually did some tests on myself to see if I had it,” Amateur creator Ryan Koo tells Newsweek. “It turns out I don’t—math just isn’t one of my strong suits—but once I discovered the learning difference, I became very interested in all of the facets of it. People were more aware of it in the United Kingdom than in the United States, and I saw a way to shine some light on it here.”
The first signs our protagonist, Terron, has trouble interpreting numbers comes in the first few minutes of the film. He looks up at the scoreboard, unable to decipher how much time is left in the game. Trouble with keeping score is one common symptom of dyscalculia. Another is difficulty recognizing numerals, for example, knowing that ‘7’ means seven. To cope with dyscalculia in Amateur, Terron uses variously sized blocks to represent numbers.
“Visualizing numbers is a common coping method, whether it be through Cuisenaire rods, or the workaround that Terron comes up with in the film to help with his associated left-right confusion,” Koo says. “What stuck out to me was the difficulty in portraying it cinematically, because dyscalculia is as much a conceptual issue as it is a visual one. For someone to not understand the concept of how one number relates to another—which number is larger than another, for example—is difficult to portray in a visual medium like film. There’s no real way to know what having dyscalculia is like if you don’t have it yourself, which became clear to me from talking to experts, researchers, and educators. So we came up with a numbers-jumbling visual effect that hopefully communicates the spirit of what it’s like to have dyscalculia.”
In the film, the basketball team uses numbers to run and name their plays. However, a small twist proves a little confusing for Terron. The first number signifies the play, while the second signifies the direction: odds to the left, evens to the right. For example, with 39, three corresponds to a play in the playbook and nine corresponds to the right or left lane on the court. Terron understands the logic, but has trouble recognizing how to apply it