“Music”: harmonious or harmful?

Courtesy of refinery29.com

Courtesy of refinery29.com

It’s amazing how representation in media has developed over the years, with stories and actors we’d never have seen years ago making their way to the big screen. But what happens when someone withallegedlygood intentions tries to represent a community in their own creation, only for that community to strike back?

Singer-songwriter Sia Furler, known professionally as Sia, recently announced on Twitter that she has written, and is directing, a movie set for a 2021 release called “Music.” “Music” follows the story of its title character, a nonverbal girl on the autism spectrum. Music and her half-sister, newly sober and recently appointed as her guardian, are making their way in the world together, trying to navigate all the unexpected challenges of life. It stars Kate Hudson, Leslie Odom Jr. and the main subject of the controversy, Maddie Ziegler.

Ziegler has worked with Sia before. Since appearing on the TV show “Dance Moms,” she has starred in some of Sia’s music videos, including “Chandelier.” She and Sia have been working together since 2014. Sia obviously knows Ziegler and must have trusted her to be able to perform well in this role. So why are people so mad about her being in this movie?

The problem most of the internet has with Ziegler being cast in the title role is that she does not have autism, but would be playing an autistic character.

Wouldn’t it make more sense to cast an actor who is actually autistic? No, apparently not.

According to her responses to critics on Twitter, Sia had tried working with a nonverbal autistic person for this role. She said the actor found working on the movie to be “unpleasant and stressful,” and that after “attempting a few actors,” she cast someone else. Multiple Twitter users argued that Sia should have better accommodated the actress, and that she could have tried to find another autistic actress who could better handle the role. But instead, she cast Ziegler.

Now this in itself may not seem like such a bad thing to some people. It rubs me the wrong way, and I find it nonsensical and somewhat disrespectful, but even with all my disdain I’d be willing to set aside any personal biases I may have to give the movie a chance. What is not okay, no matter what biases I or anyone else may carry, is how Sia has been responding to some of the criticism she’s been getting about her movie and casting choices.

She has obviously received backlash for her casting choice, and she has been responding with some colorful vocabulary. In the beginning she at least made an effort to be respectful, even if that didn’t exactly come across. She stated the intentions behind her casting, using some outdated terminology.

I’ve never referred to Music as disabled,” Sia said. “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… My character (Music) was pretty low-functioning, and after attempting a few actors on the spectrum they suggested I use Maddie.”

It seems that the longer people complained about her movie, the more angry she got, so at one point her replies read as a little more… frustrated. 

“F—— bull—-,” she tweeted. “You have no f—— idea because you weren’t there and haven’t seen the movie.” She even responded to an autistic actress, who said that she could have acted in the movie on short notice and that Sia was just making excuses, with “Maybe you’re just a bad actor.”  Sia topped off the Twitter rant with, “Grrrrrrrrrr. F—ity f— why don’t you watch my film before you judge it? FURY.”


You can’t expect that to be received positively. It’s an unprofessional and uncalled-for response to criticism, especially criticism coming from members of the community for which you’re making this movie. Neurodivergent actors have spoken out on on how this movie could be improved or changed, giving Sia genuine critiques, telling her when she uses outdated terms, giving advice on how to make this better, and she hasn’t listened to them. How can you attempt to represent a community in your movie without even listening to that community when they tell you that what you’re doing is wrong?

Despite receiving criticism from multiple autistic and neurodivergent actors and critics, Sia shows no signs of considering recasting the role. Some people even brought up that, according to some interviews in 2015, “Music” was written specifically for Ziegler, so she could play the star. This puts some of Sia’s earlier statements into question, and it doesn’t look like she is going to change her mind anytime soon.

This entire situation seems ridiculous on the surface, and it only gets worse the deeper you go. Sia swears up and down that her intentions are good, but the Twitter backlash and Sia’s responses don’t exactly inspire confidence in the movie’s success or an appropriate portrayal of what it’s trying so hard to represent. I will admit it if I’m wrong, and I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but as of right now I await the release of “Music” not with excitement, but dread.

But regardless, we’ve been incessantly encouraged (by Sia) to withhold any criticism until we’ve seen the movie. So, will the movie “lovingly represent the community” as Sia hopes it will, or will it crash and burn in the box office? 

For now, we have to wait until February to find out.