Sia’s movie ‘Music’: How far is too far?

Peyton Dripps, Contributing Writer

Many have criticized the decision to cast a neurotypical girl as the leading actress in the drama, “Music,” portraying the life of an autistic child. Maddie Ziegler, an 18-year-old who entered the spotlight at a young age starring in the TV show, “Dance Moms,” has proved herself as a successful young woman in the acting and dance industry. Prior to the filming and production of the movie “Music,”  Ziegler has worked with the Australian singer and songwriter, Sia, in which she has appeared in her music videos for her hit songs “Elastic Heart” and “Cheap Thrills.”

With their past collaborations, Sia and Ziegler have formed an incredibly strong bond, as Sia has assumed the position of a mentor and maternal figure in Ziegler’s life. “As soon as I met Maddie, I felt an extreme desire to protect her and I think that it was part of my own healing,” Sia shared during an interview on the Zach Sang Show. As their bond became stronger over the past five years, Sia shared with the public in the summer of 2020, that she feels “terrible shame” for launching Ziegler into fame at such a young age, “but I’ve taken responsibility for it in as much as that I provide her security,” she claims.

Over the years, Sia has emphasized the importance in finding your voice and the beauty of creating a family in which she hoped this film would portray. In the movie, the young autistic girl, Music, is restrained by her caregivers in order to calm her down. This is one of the aspects of the film that has fueled anger from those who are a part of the autistic community. Director of Advocacy at the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network, Zoe Gross, shared that “the autistic community has been fighting for decades to end the use of restraints that traumatize and kill.” She believes that if an autistic actor was casted as Music, Sia and Ziegler would receive no backlash. With viewers angered at the sight of Music being restrained in the film, Gross stated, “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.”

Before the production of “Music,” Sia shared with the public that she had dedicated much of her time researching autism, however many drew controversy with her relationships to the organization Autism Speaks. “The fact that she collaborated with Autism Speaks, easily identified as a eugenics-promoting hate group, is a testament to the severity of her lies,” Nina Skov Jensen, an advocate for people with autism, said. With much backlash from the public, Sia expressed her plan to remove the scenes that portray Ziegler being restrained, but she has yet to do so and there are no warnings in the movie for view discretion. 

Additionally, many had hoped to see an autistic actor play the lead role in the film, but instead Ziegler was casted. Camille Proctor, executive director and founder of The Color of Autism Foundation, shared with USA Today, “I don’t like the portrayal of the young autistic woman. I feel like [Ziegler] was doing parody,” and when asked her thoughts on the film, she said, “I don’t even know where to start.”

Though the film was only released on Feb. 10, it has already accumulated a very low rating of 3.1/10 on IMDb. What angered viewers the most was the use of common stereotypes throughout the movie and many have expressed their beliefs that ‘Music’ is a betrayal to the autistic community. With this being said, a petition has been created demanding that Sia’s movie have its Golden Globes nominations revoked. Change.org questioned, “How does one act autistic, you may ask? If we look at Ziegler’s portrayal, the answer is by stereotypically mimicking autistic people the exact same way autistic people have been bullied and mocked their entire lives,” Nina Skov Jensen, the creator of the petition, said.

Sia’s film “Music” [provides glimpses of the inhumane treatment of autistic people and does not represent the meaning behind what she thought would be a kindhearted musical. With thousands of people angered by the production of the movie, many are focusing on making a change. Although she may have produced this movie in hopes that it would be a love letter to the autism community, Sia’s use of common stereotypes and encouragement of inhumane treatment towards autistic children contributes to the daily hardships the community faces and should not be celebrated.

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