NR - This isn’t a normal review. It’s also important since you’ll learn more about me.
So, this is not going to be one of my typical reviews. I haven’t listened to this new Sia project, and I don’t plan on it anytime soon. However, today, I will be discussing the absolute shit stain that is this situation with Sia, and how it personally affects me. (Also I use neurodiverse and neurotypical a lot in the review. Neurodiverse means people with mental disabilities, neurotypical is people without disabilities.)
Firstly, some background about myself. When I was born, I was an unusually silent kid. I only first spoke until I was three. A year or two before me speaking for the first time, my parents went to the hospital, worried about my nature. Welp, long story short, I was diagnosed with autism. Throughout my childhood, I went to speech therapy for at least an hour a day, with it being basically normalized at a young age. I always knew I was autistic even as a toddler, and it felt just normal. I barely spoke when I was younger like said before, I needed and sometimes still need extra support in school, I wasn’t that good with social cues, and had sensory issues when certain sounds were made that sent me into panic. However, due to lots of therapy throughout my childhood, I was undiagnosed of autism at the age of 12. Only 5% of people who are originally diagnosed with the disability can be undiagnosed, which I was able to do (also my biggest flex I have.) But still, I have many symptoms of autism that linger today, even if they have gotten treated. Autism is a thing that never completely dissipates. So basically, I have a wide knowledge of what autism is, as a person who experienced it, and still does today.
So with this knowledge, you could assume that I have some knowledge when it comes to autism and being neurodiverse. This is where Sia comes in.
A couple of weeks ago, Sia announced her directorial debut, “Music,” a film about a woman played by Sia, who adopts a teen girl with autism named Music, and their experiences together (this might be incorrect since it can be hard to describe from the trailer.) This sounds completely fine, right? More autistic representation in the media is usually a good thing, you would think. But actually, this is movie alone is one of the most harmful representations of the disability I’ve seen, and is one of the least neurodiverse things just.... ever, and is actually just pure ableism. It also shows how normalized the toxic view of autism seen in the media is seen to many neurotypical people.
Well starting with the first and most well known controversy, the portrayal of “Music” is done by none other than Maddie Ziegler. This is wrong on so many reasons. One of them being that there are many autistic actors out there who would fit the role, but Sia allegedly did not consider any of them to be possible candidates. She had to go with the neurotypical girl. Secondly, according to Maddie, she did not want to play the role of Music in the first place, not wanting to offend anyone who had autism or was neurodiverse. Maddie signed up for the role when she was only 15, and probably didn’t know much about what was wrong at the time. But it was too late. Another one of the main controversies was that even though the movie was “meant” for neurodiverse people according to Sia, which isn’t really true, the movie is full of things that would easily set off a neurodiverse viewer. Firstly, the portrayal of autism. In the movie, Music is a character with an extreme case of the disability, which is not said. Music is nonverbal, and communicates through an iPad. She gets panicked quite often, and makes noises. And even though that some people with autism or other disabilities have these symptoms, it is very uncommon. It’s normalized in the media, such as this movie, which is absolutely awful (I will get more into this later.) It’s obvious that Sia looked at the first thing she saw when she searched up autism in Google. It’s horrific. The way Music moves and acts, trying to be disabled, over exaggerating her movements, is utterly appalling as a person who has (technically had) the disability. Moving on, the other really notable controversy is that this is the least neurodiverse friendly movie. It’s full of loud noises, extremely bright colors and fast moving imagery, which can be huge sensory overload to most (not all) with autism. Sia did absolutely no research going into this.
So due to the things listed above, people were obviously mad about the situation. Neurodiverse actors, as well as people from the autism community, or allies as a whole were outraged and for good reason. Many of them made valid points on Twitter, saying how it was unacceptable to hire a neurotypical person to play a character with autism. But Sia, of course, responded by replying to the people who were obviously unhappy. And man, some of her responses.... are hard to swallow. Firstly, she stated that autism was a “special ability.” Which I won’t get into for this review but just know that is utterly wrong ok. She also wasn’t letting other people who are neurodiverse act because the character was more “low functioning.” She said it was more “compassionate” to use Maddie in the role as well. Then, she got mad. She went on, said fuck you to the people who were mad at her. And finally, the worst out of these specific examples, she said she didn’t hire a neurodiverse person who has worked in acting for a while, because they were a “bad actor.” Yeesh. Then she deleted her Twitter account, and now we are here today.
Even though this is probably the most controversial form of ableism, it’s still a really common thing in the media. Many tv shows or movies that portray autism do it really horribly, like the Good Doctor, etc. Entertainment executives think autism either being quiet and smart, or quiet and dumb, and it’s seen everywhere on TV, reinforcing the stereotype of autism as a whole. Shows that think they are “progressive” for horribly portraying someone with autism is very, very common, and I feel like it doesn’t get enough attention. Heck, even the Golden Globes, nominated Sia’s movie for an award! It’s crazy! There is also still the normalization of the r-word, which is an attack on neurodiverse people, as well as the fact is that in reality, many just do not know what autism truly is.
So, what can you do about this?
Well, first and foremost, just stop using the r word. There are so many words you can use instead. It’s a small change that really does something.
Secondly, DO NOT support movies or shows like Music. Don’t stream the album. Don’t watch the show or movie. If you do so, you are just giving money to these horrible stereotypes.
Thirdly and lastly, do some research. Educate yourself. One important thing to note is to NOT use Autism Speaks, since I’d over-dramatizes the disability and bring out the worst in it. Ask someone you know who is neurodiverse about how they see the world. Support Autistic and disabled creators.
So overall, this controversy, and everything surrounding it is just a mess. Whatever you do, do not stream this album. Do not support people like Sia. A person who is manipulating her audience, and enforcing toxic stereotypes of people who are disabled and neurodiverse.
UPDATE: First of all, thank you so much for the support. This completely made my day. This is now my most liked review. And it has only been 8 hours. You all are insane. I'm so grateful to have a platform to discuss these issues, as well as myself as a whole.
Also, Sia just wrote an apology, and it isn't enough in my opinion. Sia had a ton of time to fix the issues that are seen in her movie, and it's a shame.
Thank you all.
UPDATE 2: EDIT: 100 likes. I’m speechless. You all are some of the nicest, and most accepting people in recent memory. I know I’ve said this many times, but I want to emphasize this now. Thank you all so so SO much for the moral support. I can’t believe it’s real. Things like this remind me how much of a phenomenal site AOTY is for giving me a platform to share my story, as well as the extreme amount of accepting people. I love you all.
UPDATE 3 (HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY!) : ok final update I swear on it.
So, the movie is out. And.......uh........ it’s worse than people thought.
I won’t go that into it because I don’t want to milk this review. But basically, Music, the autistic character does not have a major role, and is used more like a prop than an actual character. Secondly, and probably worst of all, there is a scene where they restrain Music in a way that has killed approximately 100 autistic people last year, and could be extremely harmful. Yikes. Thirdly, there might be blackface!? (thanks for @oakie for pointing this out). And finally, it just isn’t a good movie from what I have heard, aside from the drama.
My question is, how desperate were the Golden Globes?
These have been some of the most insane days of my time on here. I’d like to thank everyone for supporting me, and being extremely accepting as a whole. I will just credit some videos that helped me out in the process while creating the review.
(Princess Aspien, a member of the community that breaks down what’s wrong with everything in an easy to understand way)
(illuminaughtii [second account] that looks into organizations, knows a lot about the subject, also explains it in more detail.)
-love you all, reedy