Revisiting Sia's controversial 2021 film Music after singer reveals she is on the autism spectrum

Shaurya Thapa
Shaurya ThapaMay 31, 2023 | 15:59

Revisiting Sia's controversial 2021 film Music after singer reveals she is on the autism spectrum

With the singer-songwriter revealing that she is on the autism spectrum, revisiting her controversial 2021 film Music has become trickier.  (photo-DailyO)

In 2021, Australian singer-songwriter Sia was being described as snobby, insensitive and egoistic as she defended her directorial venture Music. Considering that the film featured a lead character with autism, the film garnered backlash by autism advocacy groups and people with autism for its inaccurate depiction of autism.

But now with the singer herself revealing that she has autism (as a result of revelations that she had in the past two years), revisiting Music has become trickier. 


What was the controversy? 

The fact that a neurotypical person played a person with autism in Music added fuel to the fire. The protagonist was played by Maddie Ziegler (the dancer who frequently appears in the music videos of Sia’s greatest hits like “Chandelier” and “Elastic Heart”) whose performance Sia claimed was given a 100 per cent approval rating by the Child Mind Institute.

However, months before Music’s release, many autistic persons vocally expressed their criticism in Ziegler’s casting, even calling her mannerisms exaggerated.

Another major issue were scenes where the central character is pushed into a physical restraint (certain positions in which a person with autism is laid in case they are having a meltdown). People claimed that the scenes with restraint were inaccurate and might prompt neurodivergent people to think that it is okay to “crush” people with autism when they are having a meltdown. 

How did the autistic community respond? 

Zoe Gross, director of advocacy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, said in an official statement, “The autistic community has been fighting for decades to end the use of restraints that traumatise and kill.”

A (now deleted) tweet by Sia
A (now deleted) tweet by Sia

An advocacy group for the disabled Communication First, also expressed their concerns in a statement, mentioning the names of people who have unfortunately died with the use of such restraints. 

“Had the filmmakers chosen to meaningfully involve autistic people from the beginning, we could have told them how catastrophically irresponsible it is to encourage viewers to use the kind of deadly restraints that killed Max Benson, Eric Parsa, and many other members of our community.”
(photo-This Week in Education twitter)
(photo-This Week in Education twitter)

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), the Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint, and CommunicationFIRST declared in a joint press release that the movie failed to address the “recommendations to protect autistic people” and demanded a cancellation for Music

What did Sia do? 

After a (now-deleted) tweet in which Sia publicly apologised, she added that the film would be screened with warnings at the start and certain scenes involving the character with physical restraints would be removed.

The (now deleted) tweet by Sia
The (now deleted) tweet by Sia

She added that she had consulted autism experts prior to filming but she felt that she was probably advised by the wrong people. 

Her apology was still seen as late and calls for cancelling Music still trended on social media. 

Despite its backlash and earning extremely poor reviews from critics and audiences, Music was still nominated for two Golden Globes, one for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy and Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy (for Kate Hudson). The scales were balanced when it won three Razzies (including Worst Director for Sia).

2023: Sia reveals she’s on the autism spectrum 

The Music backlash was not easy for Sia who revealed last year that the negative reactions even caused her to relapse and to contemplate suicide. 


Two years after Music’s release, Sia revealed on the podcast Rob Has A Podcast that she has recently discovered that she’s on the autism spectrum. 

“For 45 years, I’ve felt like, 'I have to go put my human suit on.' And only in the last two years have I become fully, fully myself.”

But how do people with autism feel about Music now? 

The Twitterati are showering love and support on Sia, offering empathetic messages and hoping that her healing process goes well. 

At the same time, some still subscribe to the theory that Sia’s recent revelation has no impact on the inaccuracies and problematic aspects of Music. @MAGNETIC_DOGZ (Maggie), an artist with autism expressed in a tweet, 

“Sia getting an apparent autism diagnosis doesn't mean the autistic community needs to forgive her for Music, btw.”

Australian Twitter user and radio DJ @SamtheAngelFox similarly tweeted, 

“...we people with autism still have a right to our opinion of her. We don't like her; as simple as that.”

Another Australian local @sampamsoup compared Sia’s negative image with that of Elon Musk, another celebrity on the autism spectrum. 

“Her having autism doesn’t excuse her ableism. Just like how even though Elon Musk is autistic he still thinks a “cure” for it should be found and is on overall a****le.”

Unfortunately for Sia, the verdict against her infamous film still remains in the negative despite the recent news around her autism.

Last updated: May 31, 2023 | 15:59
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