Singer Sia’s movie reviews are in: All the reasons why ‘Music’ is a flop
Good intentions don’t always lead you down the right road. For example, Sia, the “Chandelier” swinging pop star, set out to make her new film Music as a true and loving depiction of a fourteen-year-old non-verbal girl with severe autism. The result was a series of missteps by the singer, including casting long-time collaborator Maddie Ziegler, who is neurodivergent, and not consulting enough with autistic individuals themselves.
The film’s problems lie far deeper than just a neurotypical person portraying an autistic person. Its intense color palette and loud musical sequences may make it difficult for autistic individuals to watch a movie they are supposed to be the stars of. Instead of giving her audience a glimpse & understanding into an autistic person’s experience, Sia is being accused of creating a harmful portrayal of autism.
Notes from the autism community
Even before the film’s release, advocates in the Autism community found Sia’s defensiveness over Music’s trailer worrisome, full of assumptions & excuses, including a tweet claiming casting someone at the character’s level of functioning was “cruel.” Sia was also criticized for working with Autism Speaks, a controversial charity that does not involve autistic people in positions of power and has compared autism to diseases.
Despite her defensiveness, the film’s main conflict of interest is its depiction of restraining Maddie Ziegler’s autistic character. When autistic individuals are overwhelmed, they may stim, run, lash out, or meltdown. Restraining said individuals and secluding them used to be commonplace, keeping a child quiet and under control is more important than their emotional needs.
Now, this practice is starting to be seen as archaic. Many studies find this practice alarming and detrimental to autistic individuals, even creating more outbursts. In some cases, restrained individuals even died, including Max Benson who was 13 when he was restrained by school staff members for nearly two hours. His mother, Stacia Langley wrote a letter to Sia asking for the scenes to be removed.
Yet another one without autistic input. Disappointed in @Sia thought you'd be more progressive & edgy than this. I'm #Autistic but an artist too. Creating work on disability without disabled input is ableist & dismissive, no matter abt "good intentions". #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs https://t.co/9Gr3x7BxvB
— Dawn-joy Leong (@dawnjoyleong) November 20, 2020
Since the backlash & Music’s Golden Globe nominations, Sia has issued a warning about the use of restraints and removed the scenes from future printings. As some Twitter users pointed out, most people involved in the film are not autistic themselves. Dr. Dawn-Joy Leong, who specialized in autism in art tweeted “creating work on disability without disabled input is ableist & dismissive, no matter ‘good intentions’.”
Remember how Cats was universally hated by critics and we laughed & laughed about how awful it was with its nineteen percent on Rotten Tomatoes? Well, Music’s Rotten Tomato score is even lower, with a measly thirteen percent.
Such a low percentage is represented in the film’s actual reviews. Salon’s film critic Matthew Rozsa is autistic himself. In his review, he noted his overwhelming negative emotions “This movie isn’t just offensive; it’s patronizing.” Simran Hans from the Observer pointed out that Music’s “self-consciously upbeat moments clash horribly with the wider redemption narrative.”
Even Music’s musical numbers, something Sia should have excelled in directing as a popstar, were criticized as over the top. Famed critic Richard Roeper wrote in the Chicago Sun-Times that “the worst moment in the jaw-dropping train wreck that is Music is the pink-coated fantasy musical number that plays like Cirque du Soleil doing a commercial for Pepto-Bismol.”
Critics clearly panned Music, but what about fans? Well, many home viewers pointed out something many film critics even missed: blackface.
In the film’s opening scene, Maddie Zeigler’s character is seen with darker skin & headphones on her head that look like box braids. The performer’s blondish-brown hair is made to look black. Some viewers didn’t initially realize it was Ziegler on screen when watching the scene.
Twitter was quick to notice Zeigler’s appearance. User @cinderreden tweeted, “[Zeigler] is literally in blackface while portraying just the most violently offensive caricature of autistic people,” referring to what autistic individuals & experts refer to as a “caricature of autistic mannerisms.” Sia has not responded to this new backlash.