Sia’s Film “Music” Hurts the Autistic Community

todayFebruary 12, 2021 294

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By Diamond Marie Pedroza
Web Content Contributor

On Nov. 19, 2020, Sia, famously known as a musician and songwriter, released the trailer for her film, “Music,” which she directed, produced and wrote. Since then, there has been major criticism, confusion and disapproval associated with her film.

“Music” is about a non-verbal autistic girl called, Music, portrayed by Maddie Ziegler, who is raised by her sister, Zu, portrayed by Kate Hudson. The film is a musical drama that explores the different ways Music and Zu view the world.  

The trailer for “Music” received an unusually large amount of backlash shortly after it dropped, which Sia reacted negatively to on Twitter. You can read about the initial backlash in this Buzzfeed article here.

Image of pictures of tweets calling out Sia controversies in the background of an upside-down smiley face similar to the smiley face that is in the “Music” poster picture

Within 24 hours of the trailer’s release, Sia had compromised her image and made enemies within the autistic community. Among the numerous complaints individuals had about the trailer, one of the major ones concerned Sia’s choice of casting a non-autistic actress to play an autistic character. 

This act is referred to as ableism. Ableism is a form of discrimination that occurs towards disabled individuals. In Sia’s case, she chose to not work with an autistic person, because she wouldn’t make her film set accessible to them.

After the trailer fueled immense dislike, an interview Sia did with Variety on Oct. 29, 2020, resurfaced. The interviewer, Shirley Halperin, described the main character, Music, as being someone who “might as well be like an inanimate object, like a wig,” and Sia nodded her head in agreement. 

This statement is troublesome because it is dehumanizing. If Sia had spent multiple years researching autism for her film, which she indicated that she had, then she would have known that Halperin’s comment was uncalled-for.

Autism Speaks, a largely hated autism organization that operates in the U.S., had supposedly been included in the post-production of the film. However, they denounced the film in late November 2021 on Twitter saying, “Autism Speaks was not involved in the casting or production of the film, ‘Music.’ Representation matters, and we believe autistic actors should always be given opportunities to play autistic characters.” 

In December 2020, Sia admitted that she was regretful of her previous tweets defending her film. However, she gave a statement about how nonverbal autistics can’t use Twitter, and made it seem like the autistic people criticizing her film were not the autistic people that the film was about.

Not only was her statement untrue, but it was also offensive. Shockingly, many non-verbal autistics, like Music, can indeed go on Twitter. Her statement enraged more autistic individuals.

Less than a week into the new year, Sia was interviewed by The Project, an Australian TV show, and admitted she did rely on ableism and nepotism when she cast Zeigler to play the lead.

 “I realized it wasn’t ableism… I mean, it is ableism, I guess, as well — but it’s actually nepotism because I can’t do a project without her,” said Sia, “I don’t want to. I wouldn’t make art if it didn’t include her.”

This statement is an issue because she had previously stated that she tried to work with an autistic actress that she could not accommodate. However, she seemingly admitted that she never intended on working with an autistic actress.

In mid-January 2021, ” Music” was released in Sia’s home country; Australia. However, there were new criticisms that came up when more clips of the film were released. 

Paige Layle, a popular autistic TikToker gave her criticisms. She noted the film shows multiple harmful depictions of Music being restrained in a prone position. This act is looked down upon because it has been the cause of murder for many autistic individuals in the past. 

A person being restrained in a prone position can develop positional asphyxia, or the inability to breath properly, when they are recklessly restrained on the ground. If enough oxygen does not reach their brain, they can pass out or die.

Recently, Vice writer, Alice Hines, investigated the dangerous outcomes of restraining young adults and children with autism, or behavioral issues. She found that the U.S. government does not keep a record of “how many children are injured or killed in restraints.”

Layle also released a YouTube video, where she discussed key issues with the film.

In February 2021, Sia deleted her Twitter after “Music” was nominated for two Golden Globe awards. She apologized for the inauthenticity of her film and said that she would include a warning label at the beginning of future screenings of her film that says that it doesn’t “condone or recommend” the portrayal of using prone position to restrain autistic individuals.

Numerous op-eds have been written in response to Sia’s film, and film ratings and reviews keep getting worse. Petitions have also been made to support the cancellation of “Music,”  and TikTokers, like Layle, and YouTubers have educated the public on “Music’s” never-ending failure.

Luke Buckmaster, a writer for The Guardian, perfectly summarized the issues with the film, aside from its poor autism representations, in a film review. You can see his film review here.

As an autistic person, I have viewed most films and television shows that depict autism. Though most are inaccurate and not good, I believe that autism representation has improved over time.

Sadly, “Music” takes an accurate and positive representation of autistic individuals back a few years. This is made worse by the fact this was created by and stars well-liked celebrities. Through a series of bad decisions, “Music” can now be added to the long list of inaccurate and negative portrayals of autistic individuals in films. 

The Golden Globes’ recent nomination of “Music” is indicative that they did not listen to autism advocates and general criticism of the film. Instead, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association awarded “Music’s” inaccuracies with two nominations.

Supporting the creation of inclusive subjects in media, like films, is important; however, “Music” is not inclusive. It is a film that is offensive and hurts autistic people, like me. I feel let down by Sia, a person who preaches love and good intentions, and I will not be viewing the film.

Featured Image by Diamond Pedroza

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