Why You Shouldn’t See Sia’s Upcoming Film, “Music”



Maddie Ziegler as Music


Australian singer and songwriter Sia recently made her directorial debut with her film Music. The story follows Zu, a newly sober drug dealer played by Kate Hudson. Zu’s world is turned upside down when is forced to take care of her non verbal autistic half-sister Music, played by Maddie Ziegler, when she can barely take care of herself. Over the last few months, this movie has stirred up a lot of controversy and criticism. Even though this movie has not yet been released in the United States, it is evident from the trailer that Sia did an awful job in representing the autisic community in her film.

One of the main problems with this movie is that the main character Music who is a non-verbal autistic girl is played by a neurotypical actress, meaning she is not on the autism spectrum. This is an issue because this doesn’t give the autistic community the representation they deserve. According to a report by the Ruderman Family Foundation, only 5% of TV characters with a disability were played by an actor with a disability. In a now deleted tweet, Sia claims she “tried working with a beautiful young girl” who was on the autism spectrum, but the actress quit because she found the set to be “unpleasant and stressful” which prompted Sia to cast Ziegler in the role. Sia also claims she spent three years researching autism to make this movie. But with her extensive research and money, why couldn’t Sia have done something to make the set less stressful for this actress? Twitter user @HelenAngel called out Sia saying, “Several autistic actors, myself included, responded to these tweets. We all said we could have acted in it on short notice. These excuses are just that- excuses. The fact of the matter is zero effort was made to include anyone who is actually autistic”. To which Sia replied, “Maybe you’re just a bad actor”. This tweet has since been deleted. Sia has made even more excuses saying on the Australian talk show, The Project, that she “Wouldn’t make art if it didn’t include [Ziegler]”. Sia also added that Ziegler cried during the first day of rehearsals because she didn’t want anyone to feel like she was making fun of autistic people. She also worked with the non-profit Autism Speaks to promote her debut film. Autism Speaks has garnered a lot of criticism over the years for treating autism as a disease that needs to be cured, when this is not what autism is at all. According to autisticmama.com, Autism Speaks has also used very poor marketing techniques to portray having an autistic child as something to be afraid of. Why are they not using their organization to educate and instead spread fear?

To make matters worse, there are two scenes in the film where Music is restrained for having a meltdown. The problem with this is that she is held in a prone restraint, a practice which has killed autistic people. For autistic people and people with disabilities, this experience can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health conditions. Having these scenes in the movie can be very triggering for autistic people who have been in a prone restraint, or anyone who has known an autistic person who died from being in it. I believe this is something Sia should have considered more when making this movie. 

There is no doubt that this movie is very hurtful to people on the spectrum. Ansley Bailey (‘22) is an AGS student who is on the spectrum. When I asked her about Sia’s upcoming movie, she said, “As much as I want to see myself and others like me represented, it hurts when portrayals of people on the spectrum are one note and stereotypical or when being on the spectrum is framed as a disease that needs to be solved. For those of us diagnosed, our needs are complex and varied. I cannot speak to the experience of being non-verbal as Music is, but neither can Sia or Maddie Ziegler, which, while I certainly don’t blame Maddie, is part of the problem. Being on the spectrum just means that our brains are wired differently. It doesn’t prevent us from doing things such as acting, and there are plenty of talented autistic actresses out there who don’t need their story told for them and could’ve given a more nuanced and realistic portrayal or at least been consulted. Instead, the film feels more like the Kendall Jenner Pepsi disaster, well intentioned but ultimately insensitive to those that have fought so hard to educate people on autism and making sure it is portrayed accurately”.

With all her excuses and ableist remarks, it is very evident that Sia does not care to represent the autistic community. I urge you to not go see this movie, and to take a stand with the autistic community. We need to hold Sia and other directors accountable for misrepresenting autistic people. So please, save your money and do not go see this movie.