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Sia Criticised for Autism Representation in Upcoming Film, ‘Music’

Adelaide-born Sia told Rolling Stone earlier this year that the film had even been screened before the Child Mind Institute to ensure the film’s lead role was portrayed in a sensitive manner.

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Sia has hit back at critics who have taken issue with her casting of a neurotypical actor as an autistic character in her upcoming film.


Sia has been facing backlash from the online community following the release of the trailer to her directorial debut, Music, with many taking issue at her choice to cast a neurotypical actor to portray its autistic lead character.

The film, which is currently slated to appear in early 2021, sees frequent Sia collaborator Maddie Ziegler portraying the nonverbal autistic title character of Music, who is put under the care of her newly sober sister Zu (Kate Hudson) following the death of their grandmother. While not a musical in the purest sense, the film also features segments which see the title character interpreting events happening around her by way of musical interludes, as seen in the film clip to lead single “Together”.

However, critics have hit back at Sia after viewing the trailer, particularly taking issue with the fact that Ziegler herself is a non-autistic person portraying an autistic character.

One Twitter user replied to Sia, stating: “It’s a mighty shame that someone with such a colossal platform is using it to exclude disabled and neuro diverse actors from their own narratives. I’ve been a long time fan of your work, so this is really disappointing.”

In response, Sia pointed out how diverse the representation in the film’s casting actually was, and that those who hadn’t seen the film were solely focusing on one character.

“I cast thirteen neuroatypical [sic] people, three trans folk, and not as fucking prostitutes or drug addicts but s [sic] as doctors, nurses and singers,” she wrote. “Fucking sad nobody’s even seen the dang movie. My heart has always been in the right place.”

Another Twitter user noted that “zero effort was made to include anyone who is actually autistic”, and that they too would have been available to act in the role on short notice. Sia’s response was rather blunt, saying “Maybe you’re just a bad actor”.

Sia also noted that she had attempted to cast an autistic actor, though the stress associated with the role saw her ultimately choose Ziegler. “I actually tried working with a a beautiful young girl non verbal on the spectrum and she found it unpleasant and stressful,” she explained. “So that’s why I cast Maddie.”

Meanwhile, Sia made her frustrations in regard to the matter clear during another message shared on Twitter overnight. “Grrrrrrrrrr. Fuckity fuck why don’t you watch my film before you judge it? FURY.”

Speaking to Rolling Stone for a cover story earlier this year, Sia noted that Ziegler’s commitment to the role in the film was praised by the likes of Steven Spielberg, with the role itself based upon a real person that Sia had known.

“Nobody recognised [Ziegler] because she is doing such a stunning job of capturing what it is to be quite low functioning on the autism spectrum,” she explained. “I used to go to AA meetings and the sign language interpreter had a son called Stevie and I based her character exactly on him.”

Elsewhere in the conversation, Sia noted that during the film’s pre-production, then-14-year-old Ziegler approached her in tears, fearful that her performance would misconstrued as being insensitive. Recognising the real possibility of such backlash, Sia made a point of ensuring the role was as inoffensive and faithful to the neurodivergent community as possible.

“We sent it to the Child Mind Institute in New York and they watched it,” she explained. “A whole bunch of people with autism watched it, a whole bunch of people who are caregivers, or people that are studiers of the brain – students of the brain – and they gave her 100% [approval].”

“I wanted people to have feelings, that’s the main thing,” Sia added of her goal during the film’s production.  “I also wanted to give hope to the caregiver and to the autism community that it’s not all negative. They’re gifted.”

Sia’s Music is currently set to receive a cinematic release in early 2021.