As you may or may not heard, the Australian singer‑songwriter and newly a director Sia, released her directorial debut Music, a story of a young girl on the spectrum, and oh boy, where do we begin…
I really tried to do this review open‑minded, after all, I am one of the girls that would swing from the chandelier and live like tomorrow doesn’t exist.
That being said, within the first two minutes of this movie my open‑mindedness was gone. It was obvious that this film was not made for the people it meant to represent.
Fast, erratic editing; bright, flashing lights and strobing colours ‑ I thought that I, a neurotypical person, was going to have a seizure, let alone person with a photosensitive epilepsy (common in autistic people).
And that was only the opening scene. It went downhill from there…
The movie’s main character is young girl on the autism spectrum called Music (played by a neurotypical Maddie Ziegler), who filters an overwhelming world through her headphones. After the sudden death of her grandmother (Mary Kay Place) she is put in care of her older sister Zu (Kate Hudson), who is a recovering alcoholic and a drug dealer on the side.
Although called Music, the movie concentrates more on the story of Zu’s fight with addiction than Music’s challenges in life. The story is often interrupted by dream‑like, abstract dance sequences, which will remind you of Sia’s other “artsy” music videos.
Maddie (18) the star of reality show Dance Moms, is known for her performed in Sia’s music video “Chandelier” and “Elastic heart”. Sia’s decision to cast a neurotically person to play a young girl with autism, over casting someone who is on spectrum caused an uproar.
During her interview for “The Sunday Project”, Sia mentioned that Maddie (only 14 at the time of filming) has expressed concerns that some viewer might view her performance as “making fun” of autistic people. Sia has apparently assured her that she “won’t let that happen.”
Sia said: “We sent [the movie] off to the Child Mind Institute and [Maddie] received 100 percent as performance accuracy.”
Maddie’s portrayal of her character on the spectrum mainly includes frequent tics, grunting, mumbling and an occasional simplistic phrase such as “go to bed” or “braid your hair”.
At some point, we see Music having a meltdown. Her Neighbour Ebo (Leslie Odom Jr.) rushes in and lays on top of her in order to calm her. “I’m crushing her with my love,” says a grown-up man, laying on top of a petite young girl. This act of “crushing with love” is in fact a deadly restrained used in US schools, psychiatric facilities and youth homes, killing dozens of children, mostly on the Autism spectrum, and injuring many more.
Later on in the movie, Music received a device to aid her communication, which seems to only have two phrases installed: “I’m happy” and “I’m sad”. For comparison, popular AAC symbol‑based app ProLoQuo2Go has default setting of over 4,000 unique words.
Even before the release of the movie, it has been called by people on social media anywhere from irresponsible to insensitive to disgraceful to harmful.
As the criticism start piling up, Sia took to Twitter to defend herself and her movie.
In one of her Tweets, she defends casting a bodied and neurotypical actress to represent the disabled community: “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.”
In a response to one autistic actor who say she would gladly “acted in it on short notice”, Sia replied: “Maybe you’re just a bad actor.”
Sia added: “I cast thirteen neurotypical people, three trans folk, and not as f***ing prostitutes or drag addicts but as doctors, nurses and singers. F***ing sad nobody’s even seen the dang movie. My heart was always been in the right place.”
After the never-ending wave of criticism, Sia finally admitted she was wrong, apologized (is it the awards season again, or what?) and then completely deleted her Twitter.
“I am sorry,” she tweeted.
Then added: “I plan to remove the restraint scenes from all future printings. I listened to the wrong people and that is my responsibility, my research was clearly not thorough enough, not wide enough.”
Indeed, Sia’s apology came just after Music has been nominated for two Golden Globes ‑ Best Musical/Comedy Picture and Best Musical/Comedy Actress: Kate Hudson.
People on spectrum are already underrepresented and underestimated by the media. It’s shocking to see Music (an awfully low blow for the autistic people) be played on the big screen, let alone to receive two Golden Globe nominations.
Music scored 15% on Rotten Tomatoes, which is lower than Cats scored in 2019.
I think the only thing left to say is: what the hell Sia?
Before you stop reading this article, I just want you to understand something Sia’s move failed to educate you on; autism is NOT an illness, it’s a spectrum. Autism is different for everyone. It’s not something that needs fixing. April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day. If you want to learn more, please click here.
Feature image credit: NewsABC.net
Film, Media and Journalism student at the University of Stirling. Sports editor @ Brig Newspaper. Bylines in Edinburgh Evening Times and the SPA National Magazine.
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