Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Sia's experiencing backlash over her upcoming film and isn't handling it well at all

Sia
Sia
Photo: Theo Wargo (Getty Images)

Hey, did you know that Sia has a new album coming out in February? The pop singer-songwriter announced her eighth studio album, Music - Songs From And Inspired By The Motion Picture, on February 12, 2021. “Uh, what motion picture,” you ask? Well, that’s where it gets just a little more complicated (or way more fucked up, depending on where you stand).

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In conjunction with the album, Sia plans to release a film titled, obviously, Music. Starring Kate Hudson and Dance Moms alum Maddie Ziegler, the film will serve as the singer’s directorial debut and is set for a limited IMAX release. The official synopsis doesn’t offer much information on the plot, but says that the story “is a wholly original exploration of the healing power of love and the importance of community.” Sia’s camp released a trailer for the movie, which shows Ziegler portraying an autistic teenager. The trailer faced swift, rightful criticism from the disabled community, which was quick to point out that Ziegler—one of Sia’s long-time creative collaborators—is not autistic, making her characterization offensive to those who are.

While many would see this as a great opportunity to listen to disabled advocates (many of whom have been discussing the issue with this kind of casting rather publicly for years), Sia chose to double down rather dickishly firmly on her choice to cast Ziegler and proceeded to list all of the other representation points she managed to score in the process. “I cast thirteen neuroatypical people, three trans folk, and not as fucking prostitutes or drug addicts but s as doctors, nurses and singers,” she tweeted. “Fucking sad nobody’s even seen the dang movie. My heart has always been in the right place.”

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Sia continued to respond to a number of people and tweet indignantly, mainly to lament that her good intentions and “years of research” are being overlooked in favor of calling out blatant ableism. Seriously, won’t somebody think of the poor, defensive director?

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She went on to explain that she consulted Autism Speaks, a rather polarizing advocacy organization that sponsors autism research and spreads awareness. This caused a fresh wave of concern as the organization has been heavily criticized for potentially harmful language used in reference with autism. Sia says she was not aware that the group was viewed as problematic.

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Though the response has been largely negative, some of her fans, including a few who are neuroatypical themselves, did come to her defense. She also claims that a couple of autistic consultants advised her to cast Ziegler, as they felt that the choice would be more humane towards those who, like the friend she modeled the character after, found the filming process too stressful.

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But the real kicker arrived after she was challenged on her choice to cast Ziegler as the lead. After disclosing that the character was based on a neuroatypical, nonverbal friend who found the filming process too stressful, an autistic actor pointed out that there are actors like herself who are more than willing to step in at a moment’s notice. “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. The fact of the matter is zero effort was made to include anyone who is actually autistic.”

Sia’s response: “Maybe you’re just a bad actor.” As far as we are aware, saying nothing was an available option at the time.

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Sia is no stranger to controversy. Back in 2015, she received hearty criticism over her video for “Elastic Heart,” which featured a then-12-year-old Ziegler dancing with a Speedo-clad Shia LaBeouf. While some felt the video was within the bounds of artistic propriety, others felt that the age difference was inappropriate for the video’s style. In response, Sia simply... apologized. Imagine that.

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