Sia’s problematic film, ‘Music’

Not only is Sia facing backlash from her casting choices, but criticism of her inaccurate and offensive portrayal. 

Sia's problematic film, 'Music'

Recently, Sia’s debut as the director of a new film has caused an immense uproar. The film “Music” centers on a young girl with autism –– cast by a neurotypical girl, Maddie Ziegler, who has worked with Sia since 2014. Not only is Sia facing backlash from her casting choices, but criticism of her inaccurate and offensive portrayal. 

The film was nominated for two Golden Globes –– “Best Motion Picture- Musical or Comedy” and “Best Actress in a Motion Picture” (Kate Hudson) –– sparking criticism in a series of tweets, before Sia deactivated her account.

It’s no secret that Maddie Ziegler is like Sia’s sidekick –– some even refer to Sia as Maddie’s godmother. Their connection surpasses a professional one, where during quarantine, Maddie’s mother even split her daughter’s time at Sia’s and her own home. Ever since Dance Moms, Sia recruited the young star in several of her projects, openly stating she “no longer has the desire to do any projects without Ziegler.” 

Consequently, Sia’s favoring of Maddie in her cast appears as nepotism, or favoring, and even ableism, or the discrimination against the disabled in favor of able-bodied individuals. 

In any other case, favoring Maddie may not have been so problematic; however, to portray a neurologically disabled character was visibly wrong.

According to a CNN article, Sia said, “I realized it wasn’t ableism, I mean it is ableism I guess as well, but it’s actually nepotism because I can’t do a project without her. I don’t want to. I wouldn’t make art if it didn’t include her.”

Because she used a neurotypical actor to portray a disabled girl, Sia stereotyped those with Autism using specific mannerisms. Many voices of the Autistic community found the film highly offensive and ignorant, even asking that it was taken down. Additionally, scenes with physical restraint against the character could easily be triggering, which Sia later addressed with an opening warning in the film.

Despite Sia’s claims that hired medical professionals considered Ziegler’s performance to be “100% accurate,” it still raises controversy as to what “accurate” even means. 

Even further commotion was stirred after Sia defended herself with tweets including foul language. One tweet reads, “I have my own unique view of the community, and felt it is underrepresented and compelled to make it. If that makes me a **** then I’m a ****, but my intentions are awesome.”

Many found that she was exercising her ableist privilege, speaking for those who cannot in a misinterpreted, unfair way. This was especially clear when she claimed to have “her own unique view” on the community of Autistic individuals.

I’m sorry. I listened to the wrong people and that is my responsibility, my research was clearly not thorough enough, not wide enough.”

— Sia

The fact that Sia continued to defend herself with vague comments about “making art” in “her own unique way” only agitated the situation, which ultimately led to her apology on Twitter. She stated, “I’m sorry. I listened to the wrong people and that is my responsibility, my research was clearly not thorough enough, not wide enough.” 

Although Sia apologized for her mistakes, many continue to disapprove of her negligent attitude before things escalated. Her actions serve as a lesson and warning to the film industry, raising awareness about the portrayal of disabled individuals and how they should be cast.

The 78th Golden Globes aired Sunday night, Feb. 28. Despite the two nominations, “Music” did not win in either category.