Stigma and Micro-Aggression in Amadeus

Christina Bishop
5 min readOct 1, 2020

“I killed Mozart”

This is the line that sets the film Amadeus in motion that makes us think Salieri killed Mozart; but what if Salieri was really a witness and a bystander of Mozart’s real killer, a culture of stigma and micro-aggression towards people with autism. In saying, “I killed Mozart” it really means, “Why did I do nothing?”. The stigma of mental illness is a constant theme in the film with Salieri inside what looks like a bedlam which was a place where the mentally ill during the time of Mozart’s death lived in from the rest of society. Salieri is here because he is struggling to understand why Mozart, a very talented and gifted person was also hidden in a different kind of bedlam which was the people he was surrounded by. People who only saw and liked the musically gifted side of Mozart, his genus; but never liked him as a whole person. At heart Mozart is really a child whom because he was gifted was separated from engaging with other children, nowadays there are tons of groups devoted to having people withAutism play and engage with each other.

However, life in the court not only made Mozart famous but also sheltered him from the rest of society and it’s brutality towards the mentally ill; however, this did not stop him from actually writing songs like Lich mich Im Arch and Bona Nox based on a humorous letter written to his sister Lottie wishing her to have a good night and make sure you take a poo. Court itself becomes Mozart’s bedlam without having people say it’s one; once Mozart comes out of it, he thinks he can be free without people judging him until Salieri witnesses that people do judge and hide their pompousness and manipulation through Mozart through micro-aggression. While some people think these attacks are negative; sometimes they come off as positive and then cause pain later on such as calling a disabled child who is gifted special. Calling him a genius is a form of microaggression because Mozart is flawed and Salieri knows this, which is why Salieri is always asking Mozart about the people he surrounds himself with and if he likes them, and how he feels about them.

Mozart hides it by trying to act normal and happy about these people; however, he does not hide it in his music. The Marriage of Figaro is an example of Mozart mocking elitism, sexism in court life, and sympathizing with the countess and the page boy who despite their places on the social hierarchy feel like they are sheltered and trapped until Susana and Figaro come into the picture. Don Giovanni, which is in the film, is a harsh commentary on sexual harassment by power-hungry men. Not shown in the film is the finale in which the two protagonists celebrate Don Giovanni being burned in hell by leaving his ashes behind warning the audience about men like him and going off to find better lives.

Even in his last opera The Magic Flute he cast both toxic masculinity (Monstros) and female rage (The Queen of the Night) as villains; even going so far as to make Pamina a prisoner of Monstros whose chains her up if she refuses to love him. The Queen of the Night goes even further by forcing Pamina to kill off her over-protective father Sarastro which eventually Sarastro intervenes by lifting her curse off Pamina. Salieri did not have to ask Mozart how he really felt because it was in his music Mozart expressed everything; even Mozart’s music quotes melodies written by Salieri which means they shared their ideas.

I think by this point today’s productions of Amadeus need to start the conversation about stigma and micro-aggression towards people with Autism and how we in the modern era are still sheltering and demonizing the impairment, and how we can stop it by asking people hard questions and standing up to people who do make Autistic people feel their only half a person. If Mozart were diagnosed in our era it would be Kranner’s Autism; calling us a genus is like giving us cotton candy it tastes good at first but when you are sick of it being given to you every single day you do not want another cotton candy. I know this because I too was called a genius even though I accomplished everything I had by working hard and being the best person, I could be despite my Asperger’s which is also on the Autism spectrum. I bought into the genus fantasy until it made me upset when I was told I had to let go of all of my fantasies of being a music educator or a professional tubist.

I bought into it because I was a child who did not know it was a micro-aggression until I got older and wiser. At the end of the film Salieri realizes that he was not the one who killed Mozart but the people who surrounded Mozart with a false sense of kindness and pettiness towards who Mozart was, he wishes he could have done something or said something so that Mozart could live longer when it was too late. Mozart was buried in a pauper’s grave along with many other people who could not afford a coffin or a funeral; this scene made me cry like a child because it was cruel to see someone talented as he is wasted in such a manner. Yes, he feels sad, angry, and may still struggle with the loss but now that he is in the bedlam, he can finally do something to forgive and heal himself and others who deal with mental illness saying, “I’m a saint and I absolve all of you”.



Christina Bishop

Tuba player, creator of Struwwelkinder and The Flying Circus Orchestra