After “Music” was Released, Sia Received Major Backlash from the Autism Community
By: Samantha Bravo
In February 2021, Sia released her first motion picture “Music” in the U.S. Before the movie was released, Sia said that her film was meant to be a “love letter to the autism community.”
Unfortunately, the results were disturbing, cringeworthy, and offensive.
The film is about a young girl named Music (Maddie Zeigler), who is nonverbal and on the autism spectrum. After her grandmother dies, she is placed under the care of her newly sober half-sister named Zu (Kate Hudson).
Zu is incapable of taking care of Music and must rely on her neighbor Ebo (Leslie Odom Jr) who teaches kids kickboxing. His only motivations are to have a relationship with Zu and to help the two sisters.
He is also portrayed as the wise immigrant stereotype, making this movie both ableist and racist.
The movie sparked a lot of controversies and received negative reviews for its misrepresentation of autism.
For starters, many people on the spectrum criticized Sia for casting the neurotypical Maddie Zeigler as the protagonist instead of casting a nonverbal autistic actress.
“I actually tried working with a beautiful young girl nonverbal on the spectrum and she found it unpleasant and stressful,” Sia tweeted. “That’s why I cast Maddie.”
Despite those claims, it is revealed that she never tried to hire an autistic actress and the role was written specifically for Maddie.
However, there is a lot more wrong with this movie than poor casting choices.
Sia also partnered with Autism Speaks which is an anti-autism organization. They force parents into donating money to fund their research and promote the idea that autism can be “cured” as if it were a disease.
Even though Music is the titular character, Sia does not even bother to give her a character arc.
The story mostly follows Zu and how she overcomes her addiction. Music is merely used as a plot device whose only personality trait is her autism.
This reinforces the idea that people with disabilities are weak, helpless, and unfit for society.
Music barely talks and her facial expressions are overly exaggerated. She spends much of the movie listening to songs on her headphones and always has a wide-eyed grin on her face with her eyes unfocused.
The movie shows us trippy dream sequences featuring Sia’s songs to show us what is going on inside Music’s head. While the songs themselves are not terrible, many people on the autism spectrum are unable to watch this movie because these scenes contain loud noises, quick camera movements, flashing lights, and colors.
Studies have shown that 1 in 4 autistic people have sensory issues, so the music and dance scenes will cause them to overstimulate which would eventually trigger a meltdown.
Whenever Music has a meltdown, the only way Zu and Ebo can calm her down is by mounting themselves on top of her. The restraint scenes in particular are extremely dangerous because they can lead them to suffocate and die.
Sia later apologized and promised to remove the restraint scenes and add a trigger warning. But, by the time the movie was released, there was no warning at the beginning and the restraint scenes were not removed.
There was one redeeming quality and that was a boy named Felix (Beto Calvillo) who seems to be interested in music. He is also one of Ebo’s students even though he hates boxing and is forced to do it by his father.
While he did not get that much screen time, his character was more interesting than the main characters.
Overall, “Music” can be best described as Sia’s vanity project that is shocking, unwatchable, and the biggest insult to people with autism.