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“O’Kelley Legends: 2e Behind the Scenes” Is a Gift

Twice exceptional (2e) stands for gifted with disabilities or learning differences.
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April 28, 2023

Fun, funny and real, “O’Kelley Legends: 2e Behind the Scenes” is a gift to the twice exceptional, the neurodiverse and the community at large. Twice exceptional (2e) stands for gifted with disabilities or learning differences.

“My hope was to inspire and empower other families of neurodiverse individuals to follow their child’s lead by embracing their differences and celebrating their strengths,” director Harri James O’Kelley told the Journal.

The documentary follows 13-year-old Jordan O’Kelley, who is gifted and autistic, as he adapts his own book into a monologue show/fundraiser. He wrote a humorous book of short stories, “O’Kelley Legendary Legends of Legend,” to get out of doing homework in 4th grade. He created the fundraiser, which was his mitzvah project, to benefit the nonprofit organization SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted). 

Jordan feels doing mitzvah is an idea central to being Jewish, so this was in alignment with his own Jewish values. 

“While attending a SENG annual conference, I had the chance to meet the founder of the organization, Dr. James Webb,” Jordan O’Kelley, now 18 and a senior at California State University Los Angeles, told the Journal. “Our conversation was short, but inspiring. Soon after that, he passed away, and I decided that I wanted to do something in his memory.”

Jordan’s mom, Harri, came up with the idea to film the show’s prep and production. Jordan’s father, Brian, and twin sisters, Macey and Rachel (who were 12 at the time and are now 16), and Harri served as producers. The documentary was filmed over four days in January and February 2019; the performance was on February 17, 2019.

“The production was a wonderful opportunity for me to take a leadership role for the first time, and to figure out what I’m good at and what I like to do,” Rachel O’Kelley, who considers herself quiet and shy, told the Journal. “The documentary has become a time capsule of my middle school years that I really enjoy coming back to and reflecting on.”

The film chronicles the process of creating a successful, neurodiverse-friendly theater experience from casting, through rewriting, rehearsals and the performance. “My thought was to capture for parents the importance of mentorship for 2e children while creating a monologue show in a supportive environment,” Harri said.

Much of the cast is twice exceptional. With a home movie feel, “O’Kelley Legends” shows how important it is for “2e” individuals to have mentors and family supports, including “Mime as Therapy” sessions, as well as mentorship in acting, casting, directing and producing from industry professionals. 

“To me, the documentary was an opportunity to be a part of something fun with my family,” Macey O’Kelley told the Journal. 

She said it was also a chance to give people a better idea of what it’s like to be friends with or be a 2e student or to just be a kid with varied strengths and weaknesses.

Jordan said that despite having ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), and generally not getting much out of most social interactions, he loved being around so many fun and enjoyable people during the production.

“You can see it in the film, I’m having the most fun when I’m talking to [casting mentor] Mark Tillman, giving a speech or making conversation with some of my peers,” Jordan said. “As for the most challenging aspect, a lot of the process could be pretty overwhelming. This was especially true whenever we would enter a new phase of production; it always took me a few hours or even days to get into the swing of things before I felt comfortable giving directions.“

Jordan hopes those watching the film get a sense of what 2e individuals are like, what they are good at, what they struggle with and how to accommodate them. 

Jordan hopes those watching the film get a sense of what 2e individuals are like, what they are good at, what they struggle with and how to accommodate them. 

“Further, I hope that these ideas might be applied to everyday life, and that maybe some 2e people in society will feel more seen and accommodated as a result,” he said. 

Siblings Jordan, Rachel, & Macey O’Kelley (L to R) speaking after a screening of “O’Kelley Legends” at Cal State LA’s Autism Awareness Week, April 7, 2023.
Photo by Harri James O’Kelley

Over the last year-and-a-half, the 67-minute documentary has been shown at more than 20 festivals, starting with the Awareness Fest at L.A. Live on October 23, 2021, and was a finalist or winner in eleven of them. The O’Kelleys are continuing to screen the film and do Q&As on college campuses and educational conferences. 

“Working together as a family on this has been one big teachable moment for me as a parent and a spouse, and it was especially gratifying to see our kids grow through this process,” Brian O’Kelley, who also edited the film, told the Journal. “We recently did a Q&A after a screening at CSULA for Autism Awareness Month, and I was so proud of the way Macey, Rachel and Jordan spoke about their experiences putting on the show and making the film, and the way they connected with the audience.”

Adds Jordan, “Going from festival to festival and conference to conference showing the documentary with my family has been a real treat, and getting the chance to make a real difference in the world of 2e advocacy is very meaningful to me.” 

“O’Kelley Legends” illustrates what’s possible when a family works together to bring a heartfelt project into the world. 

“O’Kelley Legends: 2e Behind the Scenes” is available on Amazon Prime, Tubi and InfoBase. The next L.A. screening is in the beginning of June at Loyola Marymount University.

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