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The Problem with Sia’s ‘Music’

Updated: Feb 26, 2021

By Mary Grlic

Image via USA Today

Sia’s movie Music faced loads of controversy since the first trailers back in November, and after its release, the controversy is only amplifying - and rightfully so.

Australian singer Sia recently released Music, starring Leslie Odom Jr., Kate Hudson, and Maddie Ziegler. Kazu, played by Hudson, is an alcoholic who finds out that she will become the guardian of her half-sister “Music,” a young girl on the autism spectrum. Although she is a character with autism, Sia cast a neurotypical actress, Maddie Ziegler, to play the role. The list of issues with this movie only gets longer from there.

Let’s begin with Sia’s casting choices. When confronted about having a neurotypical actress play an autistic character, Sia claims that she tried to work with a non-verbal, on the spectrum actress, but that it was too complex and stressful. Not only that, but Sia did not cite any other instances of working with any other actresses of the sort, nor did she seem to try to cast any other neuroatypical actresses for that specific role. Some autistic actresses responded to Sia, one woman in particular saying that “we all said we could have acted in it on short notice. These excuses are just that - excuses.”

In an attempt to defend against any backlash towards her casting choice, Sia tweeted that she had “...cast 13 neuroatypical people, three trans folk, and not as f***ing prostitutes or drug addicts but as doctors, nurses and singers.” According to Sia’s logic, casting thirteen other workers for certain roles makes up for the main character being played by a neurotypical girl. She also seems to believe that her choices were perfectly moral because the people she casted are not playing roles she seems to look down upon, but something that she views in high regard. While the inclusivity of thirteen neuroatypical cast members is wonderful, it is important to recognize that the main character is still played by someone who does not have autism, making her out to be a mockery of the community.

Back in November when news of Music first came about, Sia constantly tried to justify her movie, claiming she had good intentions to represent the autistic community. One tweet of hers seems to be an attempt to self-proclaim herself as a martyr for the autistic community, calling her movie a “ letter…” and saying her “...intentions are awesome.”

While she claims that Music is a wonderful film for autism awareness, Sia fails to actually display her love for the community. Most of her film is filled with controversial scenes that depict autism in a stereotypical manner and are severely ableist. Many scenes contain strobe lights, bright colors, quick camera switches, and loud sounds that could cause seizures for those with photosensitive epilepsy. One-fourth of autistic people suffer from epilepsy, so including these scenes was extremely insensitive. Ziegler’s portrayal of Music was seen as a “caricature of autistic body language,” purely stemming from the stereotypes given to autistic people. Her mannerisms were similar to those used to bully or mock the way that those with autism or developmental disabilities move. Several people from the autistic community, including a man named Will Lasley, were upset with how autism was portrayed in the film. "While I know there are people on the spectrum who act similarly to her, it doesn’t justify how ridiculous she acts," he says. "It doesn’t really look like she’s attempting to portray a real person." The restraint scenes are particularly disturbing and Sia did not initially provide any sort of warning for them. Restraints can be traumatizing and even deadly for those with autism, and the portrayal of such a practice put the movie under fire.

Image via Twitter

After receiving criticism, Sia finally made the right decision to place warnings at the beginning of the film, tweeting: “I promise, I have been listening. The motion picture MUSIC will, moving forward, have a warning at the head of the movie.” She apologized on Twitter, saying “I’m sorry,” and that she plans to remove the restraint scenes in the future. Sia also said that she “listened to the wrong people,” and that she is now trying to take responsibility for her actions. She has since deleted her Twitter account.

Sia put years into planning this movie. In fact, Ziegler, now 18, was only 14 at the time of filming Music. Yet over the course of four years, Sia never once considered how ableist, offensive, and derogatory her film could be to the community it was made for. Even after reading and responding to tweets criticizing the movie months before it came out, she still made the terrible decision to release it, and has even received some praise for it. The film received two 2021 Golden Globe award nominations, including Best Motion Picture and Best Actress in a Motion Picture (Hudson). It is a disgrace that Sia’s movie was ever released, but the idea that this movie may receive awards for its message is even worse. Letting movies like this continue to be released and viewed cannot happen, as Music expresses the intolerance and lack of concern for neurodivergence in today’s society. By signing petitions such as this one, we can work together to deplatform Music and express that intolerance from people like Sia is not acceptable.

Written by writer Mary Grlic

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