As the Golden Globes approaches, controversy around Sia’s film ‘Music’ has peaked with a viral online petition calling for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association to rescind its nomination and for the film to be destroyed.
Nina Skov Jensen and Rosanna Kataja, who are the founders of the petition, say ‘Music’ is “severely ableist and contributes to harmful stereotypes of autistic people”. They are demanding the film’s distributors and streaming platforms pull the movie forever.
“We are already seeing more inclusion of minorities, but disability inclusion is non-existent, which is deeply immoral and concerning,” Jenson and Kataja wrote alongside the petition that had gathered more than 120,000 signatures as of Friday. Kataja is an autism ally, and Jensen is autistic.
“When representing autistic people, listen to actual autistic people, not just social workers, parents and organisations. We are the only ones who know what is best for us and what it is like to be us.”
‘Music’s’ plot follows Kate Hudson’s character, a recently sober woman who is estranged from her family but finds herself the sole guardian of her nonverbal, autistic half-sister, played by Maddie Ziegler, an 18-year-old dancer who has starred in several of Sia’s music videos. The sisters befriend their neighbour, played by ‘Hamilton’ star Leslie Odom Jr.
When the trailer dropped in November, the autism and disability community expressed concerns about casting, but the Australian co-writer and director lashed out at those giving feedback.
“I cast thirteen neuroatypical people, three trans folk, and not as fucking prostitutes or drug addicts but as doctors, nurses and singers,” she tweeted. “Fucking sad nobody’s even seen the dang movie. My heart has always been in the right place.”
When an autistic actor quizzed Sia on why she didn’t cast an autistic person in the lead role, she replied that “maybe you’re just a bad actor”. When asked if she’d consulted the community for research, she said: “Duh. I spent three fucking years researching, I think that’s why I’m so fucking bummed.”
The petition states that Ziegler’s portrayal stereotypically mimics autistic people.
″(It’s) the exact same way autistic people have been bullied and mocked their entire lives,” Jenson and Kataja’s petition said.
“Ziegler learned how to ‘act autistic’ by watching videos of autistic children having meltdowns uploaded to YouTube by their parents without their consent.”
This thread by Eden from The Autisticats explains further:
The film reportedly had a limited theatrical and on-demand release because of scenes in which Ziegler’s character was restrained with “positional asphyxia”, a prone restraint for an extended period of time ― and a potentially fatal action that is condemned by autism groups.
“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,” Jenson and Kataja wrote.
“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.”
Jenson told Newsweek the biggest fear is that someone will try to use prone restraint and “end up killing a child.”
As the criticism gained momentum and the film’s two Golden Globes nominations were announced, for Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy) and Best Actress in a Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy), Sia apologised and quit Twitter.
“I’m sorry,” she wrote, then later added: “I plan to remove the restraint scenes from all future printings. I listened to the wrong people and that is my responsibility, my research was clearly not thorough enough, not wide enough.”
Advocates and The New York Times have since said the scenes have not been removed from certain screeners making the rounds and there is no trigger warning in the film.
So, what if Sia wins a Golden Globe? Could the cast and crew of ‘Music’ use the accolade to make things right with the autism community?
“There isn’t much she can do at this point to earn our forgiveness, except destroy the entire fiasco of a movie and apologise properly,” Jenson told Newsweek.
“There is nothing wrong with owning your mistakes.”
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