Ohhh, this is messy.
On Thursday, Sia debuted the trailer for her new feature film Music, starring Maddie Ziegler, Kate Hudson, and Leslie Odom Jr. The Dance Moms alum plays a “low functioning” autistic teen named Music who comes into the custody of her half sister, Hudson, a newly sober former drug dealer.
Ch-ch-check out the trailer (below):
In the wake of the trailer’s release, however, the Cheap Thrills singer caught immediate flack for not casting an autistic person in the titular role, arguing that the 18-year-old’s portrayal is inherently offensive and makes a mockery of people with disabilities.
Responding to criticisms of the casting on Twitter, Sia defended the choice. She wrote in response to varied comments:
“I actually tried working with [a] beautiful young girl non verbal on the spectrum and she found it unpleasant and stressful. So that’s why I cast Maddie.”
“I’ve never referred to music as disabled. Special abilities is what I’ve always said, and casting someone at her level of functioning was cruel, not kind, so I made the executive decision that we would do our best to lovingly represent the community.”
“…My character was pretty low functioning and after attempting a few actors on the spectrum they suggested I use Maddie.”
It’s unclear who “they” were that suggested Maddie for the part, but it’s hard for us to imagine the dancer wasn’t her first choice for the role. After all, Maddie’s been her collaborator, muse and protégé since the Chandelier video in 2014.
She went on to tweet:
“I cast thirteen neuroatypical people, three trans folk, and not as f**king prostitutes or drug addicts but s as doctors, nurses and singers. F**king sad nobody’s even seen the dang movie. My heart has always been in the right place.”
We think we see what she’s trying to say with the “prostitutes or drug addicts” line, like she’s giving them “real” parts — but it feels a little like shaming sex workers. Also, she is looking for a LOT of credit instead of answering the actual critiques.
The conversation got more heated as the singer touted her own “awesome” intentions in co-writing and directing the film and begging critics to “Please watch it before you judge it.” She shared that she worked closely with “two neuroatypical friends” who were “advising [her] at all times.”
Yet others pointed out despite Sia’s “three f**king years” of research on the subject, she still worked with the controversial group Autism Speaks, which has been widely derided by autistic people. Somehow, despite all that research, she had “no idea it was such a polarizing group.”
In one particularly mean spirited response (below), the 44-year-old clapped back at an autistic actress who argued that plenty of autistic artists would have jumped at the chance to star in the film:
Maybe you’re just a bad actor.
— sia (@Sia) November 20, 2020
Sorry, but it isn’t exactly like Maddie Ziegler is the Meryl Streep of her generation, so you might consider watching where you throw those stones…
Clearly frustrated, Sia finally posted:
“Grrrrrrrrrr. F**kity f**k why don’t you watch my film before you judge it? FURY.”
Obviously, instead of taking this criticism to heart, the songwriter has chosen to be angry and defensive instead. It’s sad, because if her intentions truly were good, we’d think she would be more open to listening to the community she’s trying to represent. Or as one Twitter user put it:
“the f**king state of how sia is responding to autistic people with valid criticisms of her film…we’re all adorable and easily fetishised and fun to make movies about until we speak lmao”
Ouch. Sad but seemingly true.
We hope that this will serve as a lesson for anyone trying to tell stories about autistic people in the future.
[Image via Alberto Reyes/WENN & Sia/YouTube]
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