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Sia Criticized for Not Casting Actors With Autism, Attacks Critics on Twitter

Sia. Photo: Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for Daily Front Row

After releasing the first look at her debut movie, Music, Sia is facing criticism on Twitter over the film’s representation of autism. Many took issue with Sia casting her longtime collaborator Maddie Ziegler in the role of Music, described as “a teenager with special needs” in a press release for the movie, which Sia directed and co-wrote. The teaser depicts Music as nonverbal, and many have interpreted her to be a character with autism, leading them to ask why Sia did not cast an actor with autism. Sia replied to around 40 tweets criticizing the film and casting. Dr. Dawn-Joy Leong, who researches autism in art, tweeted, “Disappointed in @Sia thought you’d be more progressive & edgy than this. I’m #Autistic but an artist too. Creating work on disability without disabled input is ableist & dismissive, no matter abt ‘good intentions’. #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs.” Her tweet was one of around 40 that prompted a response from Sia, who countered, “I’m so sad and confused that you think I didn’t research and utilize my friends on the spectrum! So many assumptions.”

Sia claimed in another tweet, “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.” Responding to another tweet from The Fall’s Bronagh Waugh, Sia added, “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.” She further claimed she based Music “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.”

Many accused Sia of making assumptions about people with autism, and not searching for actors. Estelle Olivia tweeted, “I’m a neurodivergent actor and writer with an MFA from a prestigious program. I know myself and plenty of other autistic actors and writers (many of whom are in this thread) would kill for a lead role in a star-studded film.” @HelenAngel added, “Several autistic actors, myself included, responded to these tweets. We all said we could have acted in it on short notice. These excuses are just that — excuses.” Sia responded, “Fucking bullshit. You have no fucking idea because you weren’t there and haven’t seen the movie.” She then added, “Maybe you’re just a bad actor.” Replying to Tome Levi, a theater physical-safety consultant, Sia claimed, “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.” People further criticized her for diminishing sex workers as “fucking prostitutes.”

Sia also faced criticism for working with the controversial charity Autism Speaks, which some claim falsely compares autism to diseases and does not involve people with autism in its work. “Autism Speaks came onboard long after the film was finished, four years in fact,” Sia tweeted. “I had no idea it was such a polarizing group!” In one tweet, not replying to anyone, Sia wrote, “Grrrrrrrrrr. Fuckity fuck why don’t you watch my film before you judge it? FURY.” Music is set for an IMAX limited release in February 2021.

Sia’s New Movie Is Already Causing Controversy