February 28, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Petition opposing Sia’s ‘Music’ gets thousands of signatures

A petition demanding the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. rescind its Golden Globe nominations for Sia’s film, “Music,” has amassed more than 45,000 signatures.

Launched recently by members of the autism community, the Change.org campaign states that Sia’s feature directorial debut — which stars neurotypical actress Maddie Ziegler as a nonverbal autistic teen — “is severely ableist and contributes to harmful stereotypes of autistic people.”

The controversial film, which debuted in select theaters and on VOD last week, scored two Golden Globe nominations for lead actress (Kate Hudson) and best picture, musical/comedy, reigniting sharp criticism from disability activists and allies.

“The fact that ‘Music’ has been nominated for two Golden Globes awards illustrates the complete disregard the entire entertainment industry has for inclusivity and minority representation,” wrote Rosanna Kataja and Nina Skov Jensen, who created the petition. “It will only use autism as inspirational porn to make neurotypicals feel good about their supposed ‘superiority’.”

The petition also takes issue with Ziegler’s performance, as well as the film’s depiction of restraint in sequences involving the actress-dancer’s character. The National Autism Assn. condemns it as “dangerous and abusive.”

“Sia’s decision to include this inhumane treatment is a testament to her ignorance and complete disregard for the safety and needs of autistic people,” the campaign reads. “Despite claiming her movie to be a ‘love letter to caregivers and to the autism community’, she is actually telling the autistic community that she doesn’t care about them.”

When asked earlier this year about her decision to cast frequent collaborator Ziegler in the lead role, Sia insisted she “can’t do a project without” the “Dance Moms” alum, who has starred in a number of the singer-songwriter’s music videos.

In the same interview, Sia revealed that Ziegler was afraid people would think she was making fun of autistic people by playing the character — and that she promised Ziegler she wouldn’t “let that happen.” But the Change.org petition validates Ziegler’s fears about taking the role.

“How does one act autistic, you may ask,” the campaign continues. “If we look at Ziegler’s portrayal, the answer is by stereotypically mimicking autistic people the exact same way autistic people have been bullied and mocked their entire lives.

“It also enforces the idea that autistic people are not good enough and that their autism is better portrayed by someone with no concept of what it is to be autistic.”

Reps for “Music” and Ziegler did not immediately respond Tuesday to The Times’ requests for comment.

The petition comes shortly after Sia apologized via social media to the autistic community for depicting restraint in the film and promised to attach a disclaimer cautioning against “the use of restraint on autistic people.” However, after viewing the movie upon its release last week, one prominent autism advocacy group, the Autisticats, noted on social media that the warning label had not yet been added.

“There is absolutely nothing wrong with the ways autistic people move, or the ways we make facial expressions,” a viral Instagram post from the Autisticats reads. “Some of us roll our eyes and put our teeth over our lips as a stim or just because it’s comfortable. But we do those things naturally. Maddie Ziegler does not.

“I also want to emphasize that, while I mention Ziegler frequently in this post because she is the actress portraying the autistic character, this whole fiasco is not her fault. She was only 14 at the time that filming began. The blame lies with Sia and the other members of this project who did not stop this before it got out of hand.”

Earlier this month, Sia tweeted she was “sorry” and took responsibility for listening to “the wrong people” while making “Music” — a marked departure from her initial response to the controversy, which saw the “Chandelier” hitmaker lash out at autistic people critiquing the project.

“Sia’s handling of the comments by disability activists so far has been insensitive, irresponsible, and invalidating,” the petition states. “When faced with justified critique, Sia decided to personally attack members of the community e.g. when she replied: ‘maybe you’re just a bad actor’ to one autistic individual who expressed their ability and willingness to act in her movie.”

The HFPA did not immediately respond Tuesday to The Times’ request for comment.