Sia Blasts Critics Of Her Casting Maddie Ziegler As An Autistic Character In New Movie
Sia directed the upcoming movie Music, a musical that she co-wrote with children’s book author Dallas Clayton and recorded an entire soundtrack album for. In addition to Kate Hudson and Leslie Odom Jr., the film stars longtime Sia favorite Maddie Ziegler as the titular Music, a teenager with special needs who loves music. Sia is taking some flak for that casting decision.
Although Music isn’t explicitly labeled as such, many have interpreted the character — as seen in the new teaser trailer released yesterday — to be nonverbal autistic. And, as Vulture reports, a whole lot of people on the internet are criticizing Sia’s depiction of autism and wondering why she didn’t cast an actual actor with autism in the role instead of Ziegler.
“Creating work on disability without disabled input is ableist & dismissive, no matter abt ‘good intentions,’ tweeted autism researcher and artist Dawn-Joy Leong. “you should know better than to allow able bodied & neurotypical to represent the disabled community,” another user tweeted. “It’s incredibly offensive as is the infantalisation of the character.”
Sia began responding to her most vocal critics on Twitter. “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,” she said. In another tweet, she said that “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 went on to explain that the main character is “is based completely on my neuro atypical friend. He found it too stressful being non verbal, and I made this movie with nothing but love for him and his mother,” adding that she was advised by two friends on the spectrum and that she cast 13 neuroatypical people in the film.
“Oh my goodness you haven’t even seen the film!! Please give us a chance. Our intentions are good, meaningful, loving,” Sia replied to one user. “None of you have even seen it. Such a bummer!” But after her protestations went unheeded, she started to get pissed, tweeting things “Grrrrrrrrrr. Fuckity fuck why don’t you watch my film before you judge it? FURY.”
“Fucking bullshit. You have no fucking idea because you weren’t there and haven’t seen the movie,” she tweeted at one person. “I cast thirteen neuroatypical people, three trans folk, and not as fucking prostitutes or drug addicts but as doctors, nurses and singers. Fucking sad nobody’s even seen the dang movie. My heart has always been in the right place,” she went on. That led to even more angry people accusing her of demonizing sex work.
“I’m sorry we were never introduced. My character was pretty low functioning and after attempting a few actors on the spectrum they suggested I use Maddie,” Sia tweeted to someone who said they were “an #ActuallyAutistic professional actress that could have been cast & hired on short notice.” An hour later, she tweeted another response to the same person: “Maybe you’re just a bad actor.”