Don’t Watch Sia’s New Film ‘Music’


Tatum Herrin

Sia’s lack of consultation with members of the autistic community led to harmful characterizations of autistic people in her recent movie ‘Music.’ Staff illustration: Tatum Herrin.

Annie Stent, Staff Writer

Australian pop singer Sia released the movie “Music” on Feb. 10, 2021. The film is about a girl named Music who is on the autism spectrum. The movie follows Music after her newly-sober, drug-dealing half-sister Zu becomes her sole guardian after Music’s grandmother passed away. 

Maddie Zeigler plays Music in the film; Zeigler is a neurotypical (a term used to describe individuals with typical developmental, cognitive and intellectual abilities) actress with a long-standing professional relationship with Sia. The two began working together in Sia’s 2014 music video “Chandelier” when Zeigler was just 11. 

Zeigler, a talented actress who has a connection with Sia, made sense as the choice for the leading actress. However, her portrayal of Music is very flawed. 

Sia intended to create the movie for the autistic community, so it would make sense to feature autistic actors. Nonetheless, Sia chose neurotypical Ziegler. Paige Layle is an autistic woman and advocate for autistic people whose main platform for advocacy is TikTok where she has almost 2.5 million followers. According to Layle, the original actress that Sia hired to play Music was autistic, but the environment was too stressful for her. In a TikTok about the movie’s problems, she argues that Sia could have easily made adjustments for the actress. 

Sia might not have had the resources to curate a “perfect” environment for this actress, but she very well could have made accommodations to make it work. If she was truly focused on making this movie for the autistic community, she should have done so. 

In addition to Sia casting the wrong actress to play Music, Zeigler’s portrayal of Music is offensive. Autistic woman and TikTok advocate Cheryl, who has three hundred fifty thousand followers herself, posted a TikTok commenting on “Music.” She mainly argues that Ziegler’s acting was overexaggerated and similar to the type of movement used to bully autistic people. Cheryl pointed out in her video that this portrayal, concerningly similar to mockery, has caused many autistic people to feel insecure and ashamed. 

Both Cheryl and Layle express their concerns about the restraints shown in the film. Layle explains that the techniques the other characters used on Music are traumatic for both the restrainer and the restrained. She also says that they should be used solely as a last resort if the person became violent towards themselves or others. Layle also points out that the way Music is restrained — face down in a prone position — can be and often is deadly. 

In response to Sia’s backlash for the harmful restraints portrayed in “Music,” she promised that going forward, she would add warnings at the beginning of the movie, according to Variety.

After watching the beginning of the film to see if the warnings were there, I saw that they were not. I then dug around in the movie details for them, hoping they would be there but still didn’t find them. It has been over a month since Sia promised the warnings, and they are still nonexistent. 

There is also a lot of overstimulation in “Music.” This includes bright, flashing lights and loud sounds that would make the movie difficult for many autistic people to watch. There are no warnings for any of these either.

Even though the lack of warnings for overstimulation is upsetting, I am confused as to how a movie that prides itself on autism awareness isn’t accessible for all autistic people to watch. 

According to Layle, Sia claimed to have done three years of research for this movie, which is impressive and admirable, but the place in which she conducted her research is concerning. 

Most of Sia’s research was on a site called Autism Speaks, which is an autistic hate group, according to Layle, Cheryl and the Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network.

Autism Speaks posts information about autism and claims to provide education and resources, but in reality, they just spread ableist (discrimination that favors able-bodied and neurotypical people) and exclusive information.

Knowing where her research was done, Sia’s problematic movie does not surprise me. She should have known the issues with Autism Speaks considering how many years of research she claims to have done for “Music.”

How can Sia claim that “Music” is for the autistic community if her research is grounded in hate, her actress doesn’t represent the community accurately, and many autistic people can’t even watch the film?