Story at a glance
- Singer-songwriter Sia co-wrote and directed an upcoming musical drama film, "Music.”
- Fans were upset that a nondisabled actor was cast in the role of a disabled character.
- Sia defended her casting to fans, saying her heart is “in the right place.”
Early critique of Sia’s latest project seemed to get under the singer and songwriter’s "thick skin and an elastic heart” when she fired back at fans online who were disappointed by the representation in the trailer for “Music.”
I cast thirteen neuroatypical people, three trans folk, and not as fucking prostitutes or drug addicts but s as doctors, nurses and singers. Fucking sad nobody’s even seen the dang movie. My heart has always been in the right place.— sia (@Sia) November 20, 2020
In a trailer for the film co-written and directed by Sia, Maddie Ziegler plays the role of Music, a non-verbal, autistic teenager. The actress and former “Dance Moms” star — who is not autistic — has performed in a series of Sia’s music videos, including "Chandelier" and "Elastic Heart" and plays the sister of main character Zu, played by Kate Hudson, a now-sober former drug dealer who becomes the sole guardian of Music.
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But fans and disability advocates voiced their disappointment that the character was not played by an autistic or neuroatypical actor directly, saying that Sia had missed the point.
Inclusion is not the same as uplifting autistic voices when telling autistic stories. People are asking about writing consultants and leading actors, and not supporting cast and crew, because we need to know that our voices exist _in_ this portrayal, not next to it on stage.— Malnormalulo (@Malnormalulo) November 20, 2020
This year, a study reported a historic high of 8 percent of family films in 2019 featuring a lead with a disability (for context, 1 in 5 people in the United States live with a disability), but almost a quarter of these characters reinforced negative stereotypes.
Advocates have long argued that more representation both on screen and behind the scenes would inform better and more accurate portrayals of autistic and other disabled characters.
I’m not saying MY projects were it, but every single autistic creator I know has a story like this. It means there’s no room left in the world for our own stories, for our real experiences to be heard. It also means broadcasters reject autism projects on the basis 6/— Sara Gibbs (@Sara_Rose_G) November 20, 2020
But Sia doubled down, responding to critics and saying, "I spent three f***ing years researching, I think that's why I'm so f***ing bummed.”
I agree. 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.— sia (@Sia) November 20, 2020
Grrrrrrrrrr. Fuckity fuck why don’t you watch my film before you judge it? FURY.— sia (@Sia) November 20, 2020
Well, if you do want to watch the film before judging it, you’ll have to wait until next year. The movie, which was pushed back after being expected to release this year, is scheduled for a limited release in February along with Sia's next album and the soundtrack to the movie.
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