Sia Criticized for Casting Maddie Ziegler as Autistic Lead in Upcoming Movie

"It felt more compassionate to use Maddie"

sia music movie film directorial debut maddie Ziegler autisticsia music movie film directorial debut maddie Ziegler autistic
Maddie Ziegler in Sia’s Music

    After sharing the first teaser trailer for her upcoming directorial debut, Music, Sia has experienced almost instantaneous backlash over casting a neurotypical actress as the autistic lead character.

    The film centers around the character of Music, a young girl with nonverbal autism. She finds herself in the care of her older half-sister, the newly sober Zu (Kate Hudson), who relies on a friend with experience with neuroatypical siblings, Ebo (Leslie Odom Jr.), to guide her.

    While it would seem the movie tries to paint a picture of how bringing Music into her life helps save Zu (rather than the “savior complex” of the other way around), response to the first trailer has not been kind. Specifically, many are angry with Sia for having cast her frequent collaborator Maddie Ziegler as Music rather than an actress who actually has autism. Twitter users replying to the trailer accused the filmmaker of ableism and “cripping up” (acting like you have a disability), assuming Sia had failed to consult anyone on the spectrum about her movie.


    Sia denied those claims, stating that she based the Music character on her autistic friend, had a pair of neuroatypical consultants around her at all times, and in fact originally attempted to cast someone on the spectrum. However, given the relatively quick shooting schedule and the level of functionality of the character, she eventually decided to go with Ziegler.

    “I actually tried working with a beautiful young girl non verbal on the spectrum and she found it unpleasant and stressful,” Sia tweeted. “So that’s why I cast Maddie.”

    In a separate tweet, she added that she’d “cast thirteen neuroatypical people, three trans folk, and not as fucking prostitutes or drug addicts but as doctors, nurses and singers. Fucking sad nobody’s even seen the dang movie. My heart has always been in the right place.”

    Sia clearly got more and more agitated as the thread went on. That’s understandable, considering she likely put a lot of heart into a production she thought would do good, only to have it slammed before anyone has actually seen it. “I believe this movie is beautiful,” she responded to one fan who called her film “unacceptable.” “Will create more good than harm and if I’m wrong I’ll pay for it for the rest of my life.”

    Unfortunately, many of those who took offense weren’t buying her benevolence plea. Part of that may stem from the fact that she brought on board the group Autism Speaks, controversial for its “autism as disease” rhetoric and financial shadiness. Sia claimed Autism Speaks wasn’t involved until four years “after the film was finished,” and that she “had no idea it was such a polarizing group!”

    Though the age old “good intentions” stance and not being aware of the community’s views on Autism Speaks aren’t helping her case, Sia is hoping people withhold judgement before seeing the film. “Grrrrrrrrrr. Fuckity fuck why don’t you watch my film before you judge it? FURY,” she tweeted.


    Find some of the back-and-forth, as well as the Music the trailer, below.

    Music is set to be release in February 2021. The soundtrack, which features previously revealed singles “Together”, “Courage to Change”, and “Hey Boy”, is expected out the same month.


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