The Australian singer has received criticism for removing disabled people from their own narrative
The film is the Australian singer’s directorial debut and follows a young girl with autism named Music, played by Ziegler, who is raised by her drug-dealing older sister (Kate Hudson). Sia has doubled down in her defense against criticism that casting a neurotypical actor for an autistic role excludes neurodiverse individuals from their own narrative.
In an attempt to justify the decision, Sia told Australian television program 10 News First that her film is “not a documentary,” noting that Hudson is not a drug dealer in real life and that another of the film’s stars, Leslie Odom Jr, is not actually from Ghana like his character. Sia added that she had “actually tried working with a beautiful young girl nonverbal on the spectrum,” but claimed that she found the filming “unpleasant and stressful.”
“The character is based completely on my neuro-atypical friend,” Sia said. “He found it too stressful being nonverbal, and I made this movie with nothing but love for him and his mother.” However, when the trailer for Music was released last month, Sia received a backlash on Twitter for excluding disabled people, and responded to some comments with petulance.
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.#NothingAboutUsWithoutUs— Helen Z #BlackLivesMatter #Pride2020 (@HelenAngel) November 20, 2020
The singer, who also cast Ziegler in her music videos for “Chandelier” and “Elastic Heart”, further stoked the fire when she tweeted: “Grrrrrrrrrr. Fuckity fuck why don’t you watch my film before you judge it? FURY.” In response, one commenter wrote: “Mmm… girl as someone on the spectrum, this makes my blood boil,” while another noted Sia’s failure to consult with the autistic community on the project: “The least you could do is include them? Otherwise are you really advocating for their work?”
Writing for Dazed shortly after the trailer’s release, Sophie Buck, who is autistic, said that the film is a painful blow to the community. “It’s unsettling to watch Ziegler recreate the characteristic movements that many autistic people are criticised for expressing and forced to mask by society,” she wrote. “Why are autistic people shamed for being themselves, but a neurotypical actor gets rewarded for inaccurately and reductively assuming an autistic identity?”
In her article, Buck notes Sia’s “glaring lack of autism knowledge” displayed in multiple Twitter exchanges, and calls her out on using ableist terms such as “special needs” instead of “disabled”. She adds: “These harmful oversights could have been avoided by employing and working closely with autistic people. The marginalisation of disabled people in society runs deep, and it’s important that the arts and performance sector supports rather than further exploits disabled identities.”
Watch the Music trailer below, and read Sophie Buck’s article in full here.