“Music” and ableism

Sia is mainly notorious for her music career but, recently, this took a whole new meaning. Indeed, she made her directorial debut this year with the movie “Music” featuring Maddie Ziegler, which, despite the wave of criticism it has faced and a great number of petitions, still managed to get Golden Globe nominations.

There is a lot to unwrap about this movie and its production, starting simply with the final product itself which is, under the guise of a supposed act of appreciation towards the autistic community, a disturbing caricature of people on the autism spectrum. Ziegler, casted as the main role, was directed in a way that made the character almost grotesque in its expressions, mannerisms and attitude, feeding into harmful clichés of people on the spectrum. She hasn’t made any clear statement apart from saying she wanted to stay out of the controversies and lightly defend Sia’s casting choice while stating she understood why people would be mad over it. She is set to star in a new teen drama and seems to just want to move on. But unfortunately, the list of this movie’s problematic features does not end there.

Firstly, going back to Ziegler, she is a neurotypical person casted in a neurodivergent role and that fact angered a lot of people who would have loved representation from an actually autistic person in the movie. However, Sia deemed it too complicated to accomodate for the comfort of an actor on the spectrum. She even used Maddie’ dancing skills as the main excuse for casting her. Although, featuring neurodivergent people in films has already been done successfully like in the Pixar short film “Loop” who based its animation on a young autistic non-verbal girl who was perfectly accommodated for.

Then, the use of the very dangerous prone restraint during Music’s meltdown was also widely criticised and it was asked to be removed but still was kept in the end. It is a method which can be harmful, cause PTSD, and even be deadly for the person subjected to the restraint.

Sia also came under fire after the reveal of Autism Speaks’ participation in the movie. This organisation is notorious for its controversial ideals of wanting to cure autism as if it were a disease to be eliminated. This is of course extremely offensive and caused strong backlash, but once more, Sia tried making excuses rather than listening to rightful criticism from the autistic community.

Another subject of criticism  for the film was the stereotypical placement of a black character as the main character’s best friend who helps them and is solely there for that purpose without their own interesting storyline. There are also suspicions of blackface in a musical scene where Maddie Ziegler’s skin seems to be darkened on purpose and she is donned with what appears to be a braided wig. 

All of this just highlights the efforts that need to be made in our society in terms of representation of neurodivergency and people with disabilities. Their voices need to be heard and listened to without neurotypical people using them to fuel a saviour complex or for their own gain. The fact that the film received a 10% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 3.1 on IMDb speaks for itself.


Image from The Wong Way on Flickr.

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