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Sia film ‘Music’ criticized for ‘irresponsible’ depiction of autism


Sia’s directorial debut “Music” is being panned by the autism community for what it says are inaccurate and dangerous depictions of the condition.

The criticism of the Golden Globe nominated picture has caused the Australian singer to apologize and reedit the movie, according to USA Today.

The streaming film features a scene where a character with autism is being restrained to calm her down – a practice advocates have blasted.


In the movie, Music is a young non-verbal autistic woman who is being cared for by her half-sister Zu, played by Kate Hudson.

Some critics have taken issue with the casting of the lead role, saying she should have been played by an actor with autism, not Maddie Ziegler.

“I don’t even know where to start,” Camille Proctor, executive director and founder of The Color of Autism Foundation, told USA Today.

“I don’t like the portrayal of the young autistic woman. I feel like (Ziegler) was doing parody,” she told the paper.

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

Communication First, an advocacy group for the disabled, echoed the same concerns.

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“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,” the group said.

Benson, 13, died in 2018 after being restrained for hours at his California school.

His mother reached out to Sia, calling for the scenes to be removed, according to the Washington Post.

Parsa, a Louisiana 16-year-old with severe autism, died after sheriff’s deputies sat on him in an effort to keep him still, the New York Times reports.

In the wake of the criticism, a disclaimer will be added to the movie, reading: “MUSIC in no way condones or recommends the use of restraint on autistic people. There are autistic occupational therapists that specialize in sensory processing who can be consulted to explain safe ways to provide proprioceptive, deep-pressure feedback to help (with) meltdown safety,” according to Variety .

Sia has apologized to advocates and said she “listened to the wrong people and that is my responsibility, my research was clearly not thorough enough, not wide enough.” 

The freshman director deleted her Twitter account following the controversy, and said the restraint scenes will be deleted from future versions of the movie.

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Sia also said she now regrets brushing off early critics and doubling down on her choice to cast Ziegler, who starred in her “Chandelier” music video.

“Looking back, I should have just shut up; I know that now,” she told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Despite its detractors, “Music” has won acclaim, receiving two Golden Globe nominations; for best motion picture, musical or comedy, and best actress in a musical or comedy (Hudson).

Some advocates have called for boycotts of any award shows that honor the film.

The National Council on Severe Autism’s president Jill Escher gave the film a positive review, saying “I realize some in the autism community profess to be offended by the portrayal, but why? Perhaps it wasn’t perfect, but it was a beautiful performance on many levels.”

However many more disagree, including Will Lasley, an autistic man from Tennessee, who talked to USA Today.

“While I know there are people on the spectrum who act similarly to her, it doesn’t justify how ridiculous she acts,” he told the newspaper. “It doesn’t really look like she’s attempting to portray a real person.”

Others have blasted the lead character.

“Music has no character arc to speak of and, aside from some pretentious interpretive song-and-dance numbers meant to put us ‘in her mind,’ we never get a sense of her personality or perspective,” Salon reviewer Mattew Rozsa wrote.

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Proctor, of The Color of Autism Foundation, said Hudson’s portrayal of “a callous relative (of an autistic person) who is selfish,” is the one thing the picture got right, according to USA Today.

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