Sia’s New Film About Autism Receives Backlash

Sia’s sparks discussion: Should non-marginalized actors play marginalized characters?

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Ify Nneji, Contributor

On November 19th, 2020, singer and songwriter Sia released a trailer for her directorial debut, Music. The film is set to come out early next year and it stars Sia’s God-daughter and longtime backup dancer, Maddie Ziegler, as a non-verbal autistic teenage girl. The film aims to show the world through the point of view of an autistic person in a way that has never been done before; through music. However, although Sia claims she did years of research for the movie and had good intentions, the trailer has been met with criticism. People in the autistic community are upset Maddie Ziegler is cast as a person on the autism spectrum, even though she is neurotypical.

It’s a recurring trend in Hollywood for casting directors to cast actors as characters from marginalized groups that the actors themselves are not a part of and Twitter users, both neurotypical and neurodivergent, were quick to call Sia out for excluding actors with disabilities in a movie about people with disabilities.

Sia defended her choice to cast Maddie by explaining that she had originally cast a non-verbal autistic actress, but because the young girl found the experience frustrating, she cast Maddie instead. She claimed that working with the original actress would’ve been cruel because she wasn’t high functioning and

filming was too stressful for her. Sia explained that she felt casting Maddie was the best way to positively represent the community, and never intended to mock autistic people.

The following day the backlash continued, and Sia angrily tweeted that people should watch the film before judging it. She also said that she made an effort to cast neuroatypical and trans actors as doctors, singers, and nurses so that they could for once be positively represented on the big screen. She claimed she did years of research with the organization Autism Speaks. However, because Autism Speaks has a bad reputation in the neurodivergent community, this only furthered the controversy.

Sia went back and forth with many Twitter users before finally deciding to log off. This Twitter feud sparked a conversation about how white creators like Sia often do not realize the privilege that they have and do not stay in their place when it comes to representing marginalized communities and sharing their opinions on these said communities.

Even after all of this backlash, the trailer for Music is still posted on Sia’s Youtube channel and Twitter account.