Sia’s Film ‘Music’ Faces Backlash From Autism Community
Sia’s new film Music was released for streaming on Feb. 12, despite heavy criticism from the Autism community in the months leading up to the film’s release.
The film features a young girl, Music, who ends up in the care of her sister Zu, played by Kate Hudson, after her grandmother dies. One of the biggest criticisms Sia received was that Maddie Ziegler, a neurotypical actress, was chosen to play the role of Music, a non-verbal autistic girl.
Sia initially tried to defend herself for choosing Ziegler to play the role, tweeting, “I actually tried working with a a beautiful young girl non-verbal on the spectrum and she found it unpleasant and stressful. So that’s why I cast Maddie.”
She also responded saying, “casting someone at (the character’s) level of functioning was cruel, not kind, so I made the executive decision that we would do our best to lovingly represent the community.… I did try. It felt more compassionate to use Maddie. That was my call.”
Camille Proctor, executive director and founder of The Color of Autism Foundation, told USA Today that she didn’t even know where to start with the critiques. She said she felt like Ziegler was doing a parody and that she didn’t like the portrayal of Music in the movie.
The Twitter user “The Autisticats” analyzed Ziegler’s acting in the first scene of the film and explained why it was problematic.
“This performance is a caricature of autistic body language. It’s unsettling, and insincere. And it is deeply reminiscent of the exaggerated mannerisms non-autistic people often employ when bullying autistic & developmentally disabled people for the ways we move,” they tweeted.
I’m watching Sia’s movie, in order to write a detailed & chronological review (so that nobody else watches it out of curiosity).
But for now, I just want the public to see a few things that speak for themselves, starting with this image: pic.twitter.com/jPqtd5tLOz
— The Autisticats (@autisticats) February 12, 2021
Another aspect of the movie that was heavily criticized was a scene where the character Music is restrained as a means of calming her down. The autistic community has condemned this method.
“The autistic community has been fighting for decades to end the use of restraints that traumatize and kill,” said Zoe Gross, director of advocacy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, in a statement. “Had the filmmakers chosen to meaningfully involve autistic people from the beginning, we could have told them how catastrophically irresponsible it is to encourage viewers to use the kind of deadly restraints that killed Max Benson, Eric Parsa, and many other members of our community.”
Sia recently deleted her Twitter after apologizing for the problematic elements of the film and acknowledging the way ableism influenced the film.
Sia tweeted saying “i’m sorry” and said that the restraint scene will be removed from future screenings of the film. She also said she listened to the wrong people and recognizes that she did not do enough research. The film will also offer a warning at the beginning regarding the use of restraint against autistic people.
“MUSIC in no way condones or recommends the use of restraint on autistic people,” the disclaimer will read. “There are autistic occupational therapists that specialize in sensory processing who can be consulted to explain safe ways to provide proprioceptive, deep-pressure feedback to help (with) meltdown safety.”
Last November, a petition to cancel the film received more than 17,000 signatures and messages that criticized Sia’s approach to the film and her “lack of remorse.”
Reflecting on her conflicts last fall, Sia told Australia’s The Sydney Morning Herald that she “should have just shut up; I know that now.”
Cal Montgomery was part of a group from disabled-led nonprofit Communication First to advise Sia on the film. Montgomery tweeted saying the group watched the film before it was released, but their advice seemed to be ignored. Montgomery tweeted his thoughts and critiques and thoughts about the film when it was released to the public.
Okay. Let’s livestream the film Music.
Full disclosure: last month I was part of a team @Communica1st assembled to watch and advise Sia on this film (said advice seems ri have been ignored). I agreed to remain silent until today — but I am not coming at this cold.
— Cal Montgomery (@Cal__Montgomery) February 12, 2021
The film was nominated for best motion picture, musical or comedy, and Hudson was nominated for best actress in a musical or comedy by the Golden Globe Awards.
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