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New film by Sia sparks ‘cripping up’ backlash

27 November 2020

Internationally acclaimed singer Sia has been universally criticised for employing a neurotypical actress to portray the autistic lead character in her new film, Music, after releasing a one minute trailer announcing the film.

Due out in February, the film stars Maddie Ziegler, Sia’s long-time collaborator, as Music, a non-verbal autistic person.

Thousands of people have pitched in on the star’s twitter account to accuse her of ableism and allowing ‘cripping up’ by casting Ziegler in the lead role.

Sia’s response to the backlash was to post a series of tweets: “Grrrrrrrrrr. F****ity f****. why don’t you watch my film before you judge it? FURY…I cast thirteen neuroatypical people, three trans folk… as doctors, nurses and singers... My heart has always been in the right place… I had two people on the spectrum advising me at all times... The character is based completely on my neuro-atypical friend. He found it too stressful being non-verbal, and I made this movie with nothing but love for him and his mother.

“…I’ve never referred to music as disabled. Special abilities is what I’ve always said, and casting someone at her level of functioning was cruel, not kind, so I made the executive decision that we would do our best to lovingly represent the community.

“…I actually tried working with a beautiful young girl non verbal on the spectrum and she found it unpleasant and stressful. So that’s why I cast Maddie.”

Critics of the casting include presenter and activist Mik Scarlett, who said: “I wasn't going to weigh in on this but by posting this tweet it is obvious you've missed the point. The film may be enjoyable but the casting is offensive to the community the film is about. Any portrayal is as much about casting as it is story.

“As a disabled person who has worked in the arts since the early 80s I've seen similar reasoning for not casting disabled talent given over & over. They weren't legitimate then, they really aren't now. Creatives can either lead to an inclusive future or continue exclusion.”

DR UK’s Media and Communications Manager Anna Morell said: “It’s frustrating that despite the voice of disabled people becoming increasingly loud on this issue, decision makers in film making are still refusing to grasp the fact that there is a wealth of disabled talent out there which is not winning the on-screen roles about the issues they are best placed to represent in modern cinema. Hollywood is slowly starting to understand that diversity includes race, but it’s still got a long way to go to show that it understands that diversity and inclusivity also includes hiring disabled people to produce disabled people’s stories.”