Sia’s “Music” deemed tone-deaf


Associated Press

Sia is facing backlash after the premiere of her new movie ‘Music.’

Laken Kincaid, Staff Reporter

Award-winning pop icon Sia fell flat with her movie production of “Music.” While the film is supposed to tell the story of a young girl with autism who must cope with the loss of her mother, Sia received backlash from the neurodivergent community due to her misrepresentation of autism.

One of the most controversial aspects of the movie occurred early in the feature’s formulation. During the first few weeks of production, Sia fired the original, neurodiverse actress playing the character Music. Sia’s team stated that the actress was easily overwhelmed by the stimuli around her and that she was unfit for the part. 

In turn, the songwriter hired her famous counterpart Maddie Ziegler to play the young autistic character. This resulted in outrage from the neurodivergent community. Many accused Sia of ableism, arguing that she should have accommodated the original actress. 

“I understand Sia had good intentions in making this film, but her vision could have been executed in a much better manner,” Tristan Hansen ‘22, president of JCU’s Club for Inclusiveness of Students with Disabilities, stated. “This movie was a perfect opportunity to increase diversity in the acting world by hiring an actual autistic individual to play the role. This is especially so, considering that most autistic individuals portrayed in roles are played by non-autistic individuals. I interpret her actions as a sign that she failed to put sufficient enough effort toward casting someone autistic.”

A performer on the spectrum, HelenAngel, criticized Sia for not recognizing neurodiverse entertainers like herself and the lack of employment for individuals with autism in the acting industry. Sia poorly responded to the actress by saying, “Maybe you’re just a bad actor.”

“Firing an actress with autism because the set was too overstimulating should have been a warning sign that something in the movie was wrong or inaccurate,” said Elle Weber ’23, an ally to the autistic community and sister of a neurodivergent individual. “The direction of the storyline would have been amazing had she made it accessible to the autistic community and portrayed a girl with autism accurately.”

“I am certain there are plenty of other autistic/neurodivergent actors/actresses that could have done the role justice,” Hansen said to The Carroll News. “The movie over-emphasized stereotypical and offensive autistic traits to the point of what felt like a parody. The film almost seemed as if it was making fun of the disorder. Furthermore, the way autism is dealt with within the film is not accurate.”

Although Sia received intense recoil for her hiring decisions, production continued. When “Music” debuted in early February, the movie was once again faced with retaliation. Many communities across a variety of social media platforms were outraged at the portrayal of the character Music. 

“Her [Sia’s] message in ‘Music’ was harmful because it portrays autistic individuals inaccurately, giving those who don’t have as much experience with the community a warped sense of what autistic individuals act like,” Weber continued. “Her portrayal of an autistic person with the stims and the strange, over-exaggerated lip movements was more accurate to my sister with Angelman Syndrome, not an individual with autism.”

“The particular restraint featured in the film is controversial because that procedure has been linked to the death of several members of the autism community,” Tracy Masterson, a member of the board of directors for the Building Behaviors Autism center and a psychology professor at John Carroll University, said. “As a consequence of the backlash related to the restraint scene, Sia and producers removed the scene from the film. In essence, filmmakers did not comprehensively research the use of restraints in the autism community. If they had consulted with more self-advocates and more expansive autism experts, they would likely not have included the use of restraints. However, it is acknowledged and appreciated that the team from the film removed the scene.”

While “Music” has been critiqued for its inaccurate representation of autism, the film creates space for voices within the neurodivergent community. For example, after the release of the film, an influx of autistic creators on a myriad of social media platforms emerged to properly educate the neurotypical community on issues facing individuals on the spectrum.

“While much of this controversy is upsetting, the silver lining is that we are talking about the importance of self-representation in film and beyond,” Masterson told The Carroll News. “This is especially a sensitive issue in the autism community, for whom finding their voice, both literally and figuratively can be a challenge. We need to have individuals with autism not only represented on the big screen but in every facet of life – in businesses, education, industry, medicine, etc. We need to promote respect, awareness, embracing diversity and open, respectful dialogue.”