Review: Sia’s movie “Music” is a disgrace

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Screenshot via Amazon Prime

Sia’s movie “Music” stars Maddie Ziegler (left), a non-autistic dancer and actress, playing a character with autism and Kate Hudson (right).

By Dalia Maeroff, Senior Staff Columnist

I am going to start with the glaringly obvious — an autistic person should have been cast as the lead role in Sia’s movie “Music,” not Maddie Ziegler. Autistic people should have been a part of production of this movie every step of the way. Ziegler herself expressed her concerns when she was first cast for the role at 14 years old, but was not listened to as production of “Music” forged ahead. She was a minor and the responsibility of the horrible decisions made in this movie lies with Sia.

In just the first 10 minutes of this movie, I was already in shock at the caricature-like portrayal of autism. Ziegler’s performance is tone-deaf, insensitive and inauthentic. The deep tan color of Ziegler’s skin and braid-styled hair made her almost unrecognizable throughout the musical scenes. The bright flashing lights and colors featured throughout the movie make it unwatchable for the very people this movie was made for — people with autism, many of whom have epilepsy.

I don’t even know what to say. I watched this movie so that you all don’t have to because, trust me, it is just not worth your time. I have never seen so many horrible decisions packed into one movie. At an hour and 47 minutes, a self-proclaimed “love letter to the autistic community” certainly shouldn’t feel like it overstays its welcome, but it seems to drag on for ages and ages as the movie explores every topic except for autism.

For those of you who haven’t seen it — please don’t watch it — but here’s some context as to what the movie is about. It begins with the death of an autistic teenage girl’s grandmother. This girl’s name is Music, and we were made to believe that this girl would be the protagonist of the movie. She was not. The real protagonist shows up 20 minutes in and is Music’s recently sober step sister, Zu, played by Kate Hudson. She is a drug dealer determined to ditch Music at a care facility and move to Costa Rica. She gains feelings for Ebo, the kind neighbor played by Leslie Odom Jr. Her character redeems herself at the end of the movie by confessing her feelings for Ebo, proving herself truly sober and not leaving Music at a care facility.

Don’t ask me about Music’s character arc — I don’t know what it is, and apparently no one does, because she doesn’t have one. She doesn’t even have much of a personality — I can only tell you that she loves eggs, her morning walks and dogs. And that she’s allergic to bees. I only know those things because they were significant points that helped to move the plot along. I’m sorry Sia, but autistic people don’t exist just to be plot devices in your movie.

The way in which Ziegler depicts what she thinks an autistic person moves and acts like is just disturbing and offensive. @the.autisticats on Instagram is 116,000 followers strong and is run by three friends who all are very outspoken about their own experiences with autism. In one of the account’s most recent viral posts, the text reads, “This performance is a caricature of autistic body language. It’s unsettling, and insincere. And it is deeply reminiscent of the exaggerated mannerisms non-autistic people often employ when bullying autistic and developmentally disabled people for the ways we move.” The stories of many others who have been bullied for the ways they move, and people who are proud of the ways they move because that is who they are have flooded the internet since the release of the movie.

The musical cut scenes were meant to give us an insight into Music’s mind. What’s most interesting to me is that these scenes feature bright colors, loud music and flashing lights, all things that trigger seizures, to which even Ziegler’s character is mentioned to be prone. Epilepsy and autism are linked, and these scenes seem to be alienating the very people this movie is supposed to represent.

Upon my watching the movie this Saturday, there were no disclaimers or warnings in the beginning of the movie to warn viewers about those scenes that could trigger a seizure, nor were there warnings about scenes featuring use of restraint to calm Music’s character down. Restraints have been used for centuries as a method of controlling both those with autism and also those with severe mental illness. Let me be clear, restraints are not calming or comforting to anyone, ever. People die in restraints, and the fact that they are still being portrayed on a public platform in a positive light in this day and age is demeaning, offensive and dangerous to the perception of how people with disabilities should be treated.

The movie was nominated for two Golden Globe awards, and more than 100,000 people have signed a petition to rescind the nominations. It is 2021. Sia should have known better than to make the choices she did when making this movie, and it should have never seen the light of day in its current state.

Dalia Maeroff writes primarily about issues of psychology, education, culture and environmentalism. Write to her at [email protected].

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