Sia Cast Maddie Ziegler As An Autistic Teen In Her Movie And You Bet She’s Getting Called Out For It

It’s ableism disguised as performative tokenism.

Sia dropped the trailer for her upcoming movie Music, and activists and actors were quick to call out the singer for casting Maddie Ziegler, a non-disabled actor, as the autistic lead.

The movie, Sia says, is based on a close friend and also stars Kate Hudson and Leslie Odom Jr. alongside Ziegler in the titular role.

The film follows the story of Zu (played by Hudson), who is estranged from her family but then finds her self as the sole guardian to her half-sister Music (Ziegler), a non-verbal autistic teen.

Viewers quickly expressed their disappointment in Sia for casting a non-disabled actor rather than give the opportunity to an actor with autism. Some even shared their disapproval of the portrayal of Music as a “broken” girl in need of fixing.

“Hollywood strikes again with another film where non-disabled actors play disabled roles,” one said.

“Having a neurotypical play an autistic person is offensive enough; rolling this trailer out at the start of #DisabilityHistoryMonth is a kick in the bloody teeth. No captions, either.”

Sia responded to the criticism that this is pure ableism masquerading as inclusivity (that feels like a half-hearted token), but her responses fell flat with viewers.

“I’m so confused. The character is based completely on my neuro atypical (sic.) friend,” she tweeted.

“He found it too stressful bing non verbal, and I made this movie with nothing but love for him and his mother.”

Oof, centring yourself in the narrative ain’t it, Sia.

She claimed that she had two people on the spectrum advising her at all times – presumably during the writing and direction of the movie – and had “thirteen people on the spectrum in the movie”. That might be a cold comfort to activists.

Her responses continued to spiral into bitterness, nastiness (she said to one actor “maybe you’re just a bad actor”) and “FURY” as she continued trying to justify the movie’s choices against advocates and disabled people calling her out.

The criticisms are valid, and so are Sia’s frustrations for being called out for doing a movie that, on the surface, looks nothing but good.

But, the fact of the matter is, more could have and should have been done in the production process – to cast a neuro atypical person in the lead, rather than Sia’s close creative partner, Ziegler, for one – to make the movie a truer showcase of disability and the people who live with it. Not performative tokenism.

Sure, the movie may not be explicitly mocking people with disabilities, but, as the critics say, putting them in the backseat (again) for a neuro-typical actor only further disables them and makes Hollywood and society less accessible.

The answer, as we’ve seen with actresses who played disabled characters before and faced criticism, is not to lash out. But to face it with grace and actually make steps to change.

Image Sources: Instagram (@maddieziegler, @siamusic, @_musicology_)

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