Let us preface this review by saying that Music, whilst claiming to be a film giving a platform to autistic people, is not about autism. Music instead appears to be a rather self-indulgent film about drug addiction that Sia herself experienced. I will touch upon this later. Even before its release, Music has gathered an almighty and deserving backlash online. Directed by Sia, Music has been heavily marketed by the Australian singer and songwriter as a film about a non-verbal autistic character called Music played by Maddie Ziegler. The criticism has flooded the film’s initial release this month due to its abhorrent representation of the autistic community. It’s documented that Sia hired an autistic actor to portray the role of Music at the start of production but, in Sia’s own words via Twitter, it would be “cruel not kind” as “she found it extremely stressful and overwhelming”. Here we ask Sia why the set was not adapted to cater to the needs of this actor in light of her autism in a film supposedly bringing awareness to autism? Subsequently, Sia did not hire a neurodivergent individual for the role of Music opting for her go-to Maddie Ziegler. To make matters worse in an interview with Sia she claims she always had Ziegler in mind for this role further adding insult to injury. Many autistic actors have reached out to Sia stating they had brought to her attention when she was seeking a “replacement” their availability for the role. Sia’s simple, rude and inadequate response simply was “maybe you’re just a bad actor”. Never in our lifetime have we come across a film that completely misses the mark, but also, abuses the community that so wanted to have a voice and feel included.
Music, if you were unaware, focuses on Music (Maddie Ziegler) and her half-sister Zu (Kate Hudson). When their grandmother passes away, Zu has the responsibility of looking after Music, who has had no experience of looking after an autistic individual. As the film has been heavily publicised as a film about autism, the film actually seems to ignore that completely and focus on Zu, whose character struggles with alcohol abuse and a chaotic lifestyle. As the running time slowly etches away, you slowly realise that the film is a vanity project for Sia’s personal experiences. Wrapped and presented as one thing, and delivered as something completely different. It’s a shameful move from the Australian director, which makes you wonder why on earth she even made this film in the first place.
It’s a film that is desperately calling out for a sense of direction. The film juggles multiple topics such as autism, abuse, alcoholism, death, and drug addiction. Music suffers from its indecisive nature, covering so many topics but yet not giving the needed attention to any in particular. For Sia to make claims this is a film about the beauty of autism is abhorrent. We can label this behaviour by Sia as “hero complex” without a doubt. To make matters worse, Music’s character is portrayed as a nuisance to Zu throughout the film. At the end Zu’s character states she helps her “just as much as she helps me” and yet there is no evidence of this relationship throughout the film. There is absolutely no celebration or recognition of the autistic community at all, what it is, is a middle finger to them as Sia clearly hasn’t listened to the community well enough.
It’s extremely hard to give any criticism towards Maddie Ziegler’s portrayal as Music. Maddie was only 14-years-old at the time of filming and seemed to have been wrapped in Sia’s grasp. Maddie was said to be nervous about offending the autistic community which Sia promised would not happen. At this stage we can see it has. At 14-years-old Maddie is said to have researched through watching YouTube videos and, with Sia basing Music off of a male friend of hers, what more could we expect? Sia claims to have completed 3 years of research yet seems to have failed to understand the large differences in presentation between autistic males and females.
As the film eventually got towards its end scene, it was clear that the film failed on so many levels. It has dangerous depictions of face-down restraint of autistic people which have now been cut from future prints of the film. It teamed with charity ‘Autism Speaks’, a controversial charity in the autistic community for their beliefs autism is something to be “fixed”. The flashing images that could result in sensory difficulties for some in the autistic community. The statement from Sia that this is “Rain Man the musical, but with girls”, another harmful stereotype. The unexplainable and pointless musical scenes that provide no context towards the story. Sia claimed these scenes were to show the imagination of Music and yet she was not in most of the scenes preceding these numbers. And to top it off, just when you thought she couldn’t be vain enough, Sia had to include herself in the film in an unnerving and cringe-worthy scene that again, was completely unnecessary. Never have we seen a film so tone-deaf and vile as a film like this. Music is a film to be avoided. If you wish to support the autistic community then raise awareness through the likes of charities like the ‘National Autistic Society’.
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