Sia’s Music was, again, condemned by critics due to the stereotypical depiction of autism upon its release in Australia and New Zealand theaters as well as select IMAX theaters in the U.S. Sia, an Australian pop singer, dove into the film industry with Music being her debut.
Maddie Ziegler, Kate Hudson, and Lesie Odom Jr. play major roles in the movie, and viewers are questioning why they took the parts.
Ziegler’s character, Music, is on the autism spectrum. The movie doesn’t specify what point of the spectrum, but it does depict her as being nonverbal. Ziegler, who is neurotypical, is seen as a caricature and is especially uncomfortable to watch during the leaked meltdown scenes where she’s held in a prone restraint, an extremely dangerous physical hold that can result in suffocation and death.
According to the National Autism Association, “over the last five years, more than 20 students, many with disabilities, have died due to seclusion and restraints being used in schools.” Restraints in schools aren’t a humane method, have resulted in more deaths than anything, and these scenes only validate them.
After being questioned for casting Ziegler as an autistic character, Twitter users expressed their outrage against the fact that a non-autistic person was cast for an autistic role. Sia continued to defend herself and even went on to tweet “fuckity fuck why don’t you watch my film before you judge it,” eliciting more criticism and hate to the point where she deleted her Twitter account. Her unprofessional response as a professional in the music industry goes to show her inability to receive criticism.
Perhaps her most problematic tweet was to an autistic actor, Helen Angel, who disapproved of how Sia didn’t cast any actual autistic people, tweeting, “We all said we could have acted in it on short notice. These excuses are just that — excuses,” to which Sia replied, “maybe you’re just a bad actor.” Her snarky tweets makes Music look even worse, and resulted in others calling her ableist, a term used to describe discrimination against people with disabilities, and acting as a savior towards those with disabilities.
On Rotten Tomatoes, Music is rated even lower than Cats, which was infamous for being a horrible movie. The critical consensus states that Music is “offensive in its depiction of autism,” many of the critic reviews being from people on the autism spectrum.
Despite Sia’s claims of researching and listening to the autistic community, it’s clear that Music is a failure, and it’s completely tone-deaf when it comes to portraying autism on screen. Although Sia states that she “plan[s] to remove the restraint scenes,” it’ll be difficult for her to recover from this controversy.