Sia’s first feature film, Music, came out on January 14th, 2021. It follows the titular character, Music, who is a non-speaking autistic person. Sia originally stated that she had cast an autistic actress to play the role of Music, but later fired the original actress, because the environment was not conducive to having a autistic person on set. This raised a question: if you are filming a movie about autistic people and you are responsible for the filming environment, why wouldn’t you adapt it to fit the needs of your actors? When Sia was asked on Twitter by an autistic actress why she didn’t look for another autistic actress, she responded with “Maybe you’re just a bad actor.”
(@rollwthepunches on Twitter)
(@Carter_AndrewJ on Twitter)
When the movie was first promoted in 2019, Sia announced that Music would be played by Maddie Ziegler, a neurotypical actor. This sparked outrage among the autistic community because there are plenty of autistic actors who are only ever cast in autistic roles, but neurotypical actors are cast in autistic roles, and are often praised for it in the media. To prepare for the role of Music, Maddie watched videos of autistic children’s meltdowns in order to accurately portray the character’s autism. Many autistic people have pointed out to Sia that this portrayal of autism felt like a mockery. Sia has expressed that Maddie was uncomfortable playing this role, and expressed concern that autistic people would think she was mocking them.
In an interview with Vanity Fair while promoting the film, the interviewer compared non-speaking autistic people to inanimate objects such as wigs, a statement which Sia did not contest, and in fact appeared to affirm by nodding along. The movie also shows Maddie’s character held in Prone restraint (laying flat down with the back up while someone puts their body weight on them) during a meltdown. It is well known in the autistic community that any form of restraint is to be used as a very last resort, and only in cases when the person having the meltdown or someone else is being harmed. Prone restraint involves a person to be held flat against the ground and sat on in order to restrict movement. This is incredibly dangerous due to the fact that it restricts breathing and there are multiple cases of children and teens dying of asphyxiation due to this restraint. The method of restraint has been widely reported on, Including by CBS and Vice News, For its dangerous and potentially deadly consequences
Sia recently spoke out on Twitter, apologizing for her depiction of prone restraint, stating that she has put a warning on the movie and will be cutting the scene from all future releases. Sia acknowledged that she did not do in-depth research on the autistic community or autism, and that her film was harmful, before deleting her Twitter account. Despite this, there has been no warning added before the scene with prone restraint or before the movie in general. The film also contains many overstimulating scenes with strobing lights, loud noises, and bright colors, a statement which Sia did not contest, and in fact appeared to affirm by nodding along.
Sia was nominated for a golden globe for the movie, but did not win. Despite this loss there has been a lack of consequences that followed her repeated offence against the Autistic and wider disabled communities. If you want to learn more about the autistic community, I recommend checking out the Autism Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) and autistic writers, actors, and creators.