How Sia’s Film Music Affects the Autistic Community
By Angela Tao
The autistic community has watched their representation in media be taken by neurotypical people for decades. Now the singer-songwriter Sia’s film, Music, is another example to add to the list. The trailer of Music depicts a nonverbal autistic teen being played by dancer Maddie Ziegler, who is neurotypical. After the release of the trailer to the public, autism rights activists spoke out on the film’s controversy. Not only does the film appear to be inaccessible to people on the spectrum itself and portray stereotypes of autism, but it also stars a neurotypical person as an autistic character.
Sensory overload is the overstimulation of one or more of the five senses and is commonly experienced by autistic individuals. Sensory overload can be triggered by bright lights and disorienting colors, among a myriad of other things: all of which Music is filled with. From scenes drenched in vivid blues, reds, and yellows to the sudden flashes of light, many people on the spectrum can find themselves dealing with sensory overload throughout the film and be unable to sit through it. Furthermore, the movie does not reflect having been written with any autistic individuals on the team. Although it cannot be definitively judged without watching the entire movie, the movie centers around the perspective of Music’s sister, not Music herself. When Sia was confronted with people who stated that an autistic actor should have been cast as Music, she replied, “Maybe you’re just a bad actor,” which only adds to the belief that autistic people don’t know how to act and disregards the diversity of the autistic community. Once again, a role that should have been guaranteed to the autistic community was given to someone who has never been through their experiences. As Estelle Olivia stated, “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… would kill for a lead role in a star-studded film.” @HelenAngel spoke up as well, saying, “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.”
Although movies displaying autistic characters can help spread awareness and normalize neurodivergent people, they can also harm people on the spectrum. Sia’s upcoming film, Music, seems to be the latter, furthering stereotypes of autism and being inaccessible to the autistic community. Moreover, an autistic person was not even chosen to act as Music. While the movie does seem to be a poor attempt at inclusion, it has shed light on the inequalities and struggles the autistic community has faced and brought their issues to the limelight. Hopefully, discussions on this topic will continue to be sparked and a change in society’s treatment of neurodivergence will come.
Curto, Justin. “Sia Criticized for Not Casting Actors With Autism, Attacks Critics on Twitter.” Vulture, Vulture, 20 Nov. 2020, www.vulture.com/2020/11/sia-autism-representation-music-movie.html.
Haring, Bruce. “Sia Goes To War With The Autism Community Over Her New Film 'Music'.” Deadline, Deadline, 21 Nov. 2020, deadline.com/2020/11/sia-music-trailer-autism-community-controversy-1234619985/.
Lee, Janet W. “Autism Rights Activists Ask Sia to Cancel 'Music' Movie.” Variety, Variety, 25 Nov. 2020, variety.com/2020/film/news/sia-music-movie-autism-activists-1234839639/.