Here we go again. War is in full swing in a matter of hours between the singer-songwriter Sia and the #actuallyautistic community over her upcoming autism-themed film, Music.
To summarize the controversy: Maddie Ziegler, who plays Music, is not autistic. The complaint is that many autistic actresses could have possibly played the role (based solely on diagnosis & gender). Having someone able-bodied play a disabled character is widely considered “ableist.”
I’ve seen the Twitter mob attack before, so I had to jump in and do my research before responding, as I know I will take heat for my response as well.
Sia vs. Autism Controversy
The controversy comes in two parts. Part one is the actress chosen to play Music (Maddie Ziegler), the main character Zu’s nonverbal autistic half-sister (Kate Hudson). Part two is Sia’s negative responses to criticism.
Before we jump in, this will include more than just the synopsis of the Twitter war. I am an autistic mother of three children on the autism spectrum. My views come from a combination of research, life experience as an autistic adult, a parent of autistic children, motivational speaker, and researcher of all things autism.
So, let’s jump into the conversation at hand:
Simply put, the problem identified by the autistic community was that Maddie Ziegler was not autistic. The complaint is that many autistic actresses could have possibly played the role (based solely on diagnosis & gender).
Having someone able-bodied play a disabled character is widely considered “ableist.”
Sia vs. Autism? One Autistic Woman’s POV
So, we have a situation where the film is being judged solely on the actress, not by the content. The film itself is finally bringing someone other than a savant or higher functioning white male as the main character.
The character Music is an autistic female who is nonverbal, something the #actuallyautistic and autism communities have both been asking to be represented in film for years.
My answer to this is a question:
Would hiring a verbally autistic female have been less ableist than hiring a neurotypical female for the same role?
If the point of controversy is that the person playing the role does not have the character’s diagnosis, then hiring any autistic actresses mentioned on social media would have been just as ableist. Based on the masses’ viewpoint, the only individuals who could have played this role would have been a non-verbal, level 3 autistic female.
So, why would hiringng one of the autistic actors mentioned on Twitter be any less ablest than hiring a more qualified actress to play the role?
Sure, I would have liked to have finally seen an autistic character played by an autistic individual. But I am thankful to see an autistic female, especially a nonverbal one, displayed in the film. Add in the fact that she is one of the main characters, and I am ecstatic!
I see that the intent and actions presented so far show that Sia is coming from a place of advocating for those who cannot. She put her money where her mouth is by funding and directing a film to bring better autism awareness.
As for Sia’s response:
While lashing out at the audience is never good, who can throw the first stone here? I know I cannot. In my life, I have received criticism, and I have not always given a positive response. It hurts when you put your effort into something only to have someone point out something that’s gone wrong.
While she is an influencer, Sia is also a human being. 1000s of self-advocates instantly attacked her for trying to make a positive change.
I’ve been on the receiving end of the attacks by these same advocates, all because my views are not identical to theirs. I’ve seen not only another advocate, but I have also seen everyday parents attacked because they dared to use the hashtag #autismmom
I look at people, organizations, and situations one at a time -researching and basing my opinions on facts, intent, and character. I do not follow the masses because of a similar diagnosis, belief, or sexual orientation.
You cannot do that with hatred or ill will when wanting to change someone’s viewpoint. Attacking someone with different views, whether an author, film director or another advocate, will NEVER change opinions.
Music, the film itself
I cannot say that the film is either good or bad, nor can any society or hashtag represent autistic or disabled individuals.
The entire controversy of the film Music is solely based on a trailer. Those saying not to see it are not basing it on the content. The film revolving around autism has not been seen by anyone commenting on it other than Sia herself, as she is the director.
I can tell you this: Do your research and not blindly follow the masses in either direction. This conversation is far from over, with the film’s release coming in early 2021. Will you be watching Music?
Based on the trailer, I am so excited to see it and can’t wait until it comes out. As an autistic woman and mom to two autistic girls, this film can bring real awareness that autism affects girls too. So for that, thank you, Sia.