‘Music’ film with nonverbal autistic lead, directed by Sia

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ASPartOfMe
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10 Nov 2020, 5:07 am

Fifteen Years in the Making, Sia’s Directorial Debut Is Sweet Music to the Ears

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As a performer, Sia has long been known for her dazzling visuals — from the fantastical wigs she wears to her sublime music videos — ideas she comes up with both in her waking hours watching television and in her dreams. One of those visions, Sia’s first movie, “Music,” was 15 years in the making. Looking to be released in 2021, her directorial debut will be brought to the American Film Market.

Speaking at Variety’s Power of Women event in October, the Grammy-nominated artist said the tale of Music, a teenager with special abilities — specifically nonvocal autism — started as a short story. “Over the years, I had this fantasy of making it,” said Sia, adding that she didn’t have the confidence to helm a movie.


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20 Nov 2020, 4:47 am

Maddie Ziegler Stars As Teen On Autism Spectrum In New 'Music' Film

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The 18-year-old stars as the titular character in the movie, alongside Kate Hudson and Leslie Odom Jr.

Here’s a synopsis: Kate Hudson, plays Zu, a newly sober drug dealer and self-saboteur who finds herself the sole guardian of her half-sister, Music (Ziegler), a teenager with special needs. Barely able to take care of herself, let alone her sister, Zu struggles with this new responsibility, but soon learns that life’s obstacles are made easier with a little help from a friend, Ebo (Odom, Jr.), a neighbor whose own family story makes him someone Zu can learn from and rely upon.

The film will get a special limited theatrical release by IMAX in February 2021



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20 Nov 2020, 1:36 pm

Lots of criticism on the Twitter machine.


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20 Nov 2020, 3:19 pm

Some of Sia's reactions to some valid criticisms she's received from people on the spectrum, especially regarding the casting of a neurotypical actress to play the role of Music, are...pretty insulting
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"more compassionate"!? :?


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20 Nov 2020, 9:05 pm

Leahcar wrote:
Some of Sia's reactions to some valid criticisms she's received from people on the spectrum, especially regarding the casting of a neurotypical actress to play the role of Music, are...pretty insulting
Image
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"more compassionate"!? :?


That's very disheartening. I used to like some of her music. I assumed from the first article that they had an austistic actress. These celebrities frequently disappoint me.



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20 Nov 2020, 10:41 pm

I made the mistake of reading further. It seems Autism Speaks was involved. Sia and her abled fans are lashing out at the autistic community over their valid criticisms of the film. Many of them are trying to justify themselves because they 'know someone who's autistic' :roll: . From the trailer, the NT actress's portrayal is upsetting. It seems to play into many stereotypes. The whole thing reeks of inspiration porn for the abled.



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21 Nov 2020, 6:37 am

Sia Goes To War With The Autism Community Over Her New Film ‘Music’ - Deadline

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A war has broken out online between singer-songwriter Sia and the autism community over her upcoming film, Music.

Sia wound up tweeting that she is “so confused” by the negativity toward the movie that she wrote and directed.

“Can I ask why you didn’t cast a disabled actor for this part?” Irish actress Bronagh Waugh asked. “It’s pretty offensive the way you’ve chosen to portray this character. People with disabilities are not broken and don’t need fixing.”

Sia responded that she tried to “lovingly represent the community.” That set off Twitter, with many asking why a disabled actor could not have filled the role. Sia fought back, saying at one point, “Duh. I spent three f***ing years researching, I think that’s why I’m so f***ing bummed.”

Sia claimed she hired many “special abilities kids” to work on the film, including a girl on the spectrum, before casting Ziegler.

“She found it unpleasant and stressful,” Sia said of the young girl on the spectrum.

Ultimately, the film seems to have ignited anger in the very community it was trying to please. The UK’s National Autistic Society said, “Sia has got this one wrong.”

The American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) also responded to say “Don’t watch the Sia video.”

Ultimately, Sia defended her actions and urged a review of the finished product.

“F***ity f*** why don’t you watch my film before you judge it?” she wrote on Twitter. “FURY.”

That brought one prominent celebrity reaction.

Marlee Matlin wrote:
Dear @Sia
, With respect as a fellow artist, is this the kind of response you want people to see when discussing such an important topic such as people with Autism? Please don't be deaf to what they have to say.



Sia defends portrayal of autistic character in new film - CBS News
Quote:
The film tells the story of a newly sober sister struggling to take care of her nonverbal autistic sister. Ziegler, best known for her role in "Dance Moms" and many of Sia's music videos, stars as an autistic girl who uses her music to speak to others.

A trailer of the film was immediately met with criticism after its release on Thursday. In response, Sia explained the film was inspired by her close friend. "I'm so confused. The character is based completely on my neuro atypical friend. He found it too stressful being nonverbal, and I made this movie with nothing but love for him and his mother," she tweeted Friday.

"I've never referred to music as disabled," she tweeted. "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."

Sia, however, said three years of research went into the project and that an unnamed autistic actress was given the opportunity to play the role but she found it to be too stressful.

The singer also said two people on the autism spectrum advised her on the project and 13 actors who appear in the film are on the spectrum, playing the roles of doctors, nurses and singers.

The National Autism Society chimed in, saying Sia "has got this one wrong."
Hi Sia, can I ask why you didn't cast a disabled actor for this part? It's pretty offensive the way you've chosen to portray this character. People with disabilities are not broken and don't need fixing. Many of my friends have different disabilities and they are some of the...


Sia responds to backlash after casting Maddie Ziegler as autistic teen in new film Music
Quote:
In other tweets, Sia said she came to the decision that casting an actor at so low-functioning a level as her character would be "cruel, not kind" after the actor found the process "extremely stressful and overwhelming."

According to Sia, the advocacy organization Autism Speaks came on board "long after the film was finished, four years in fact." Zoe Gross, director of operations at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, wrote to EW via email that, of the many concerns her organization has about the film, one is "the fact that the filmmakers partnered with Autism Speaks (an organization without autistic leadership whose advocacy priorities are in opposition to the autistic community) instead of with autistic-led organizations." A rep for Autism Speaks told EW that the organization "was not involved in the casting or production of the film, Music. Representation matters, and we believe autistic actors should always be given opportunities to play autistic characters."

Sia also said she spent three years researching and cast "thirteen neuroatypical people, three trans folk, and not as f---ing prostitutes or drug addicts but as doctors, nurses and singers. F---ing sad nobody’s even seen the dang movie. My heart has always been in the right place."

Autism speaks came on board long after the film was finished, four years in fact. I had no idea it was such a polarizing group!

"There’s a lot to be concerned about with this film, including — but definitely not limited to — the casting," Gross of ASAN said. "We’re concerned about what messages the film will send about autism."

She adds, "We are particularly alarmed that Sia has said it would be 'cruel' to cast a nonspeaking autistic person as an actor. It suggests that she thinks that autistic people don’t understand our own lives and aren’t the people who should be telling our own stories. When people tell stories about autism that cut out an autistic point of view, when storytellers view us as objects to tell inspirational stories about, or when autism is treated as a narrative device rather than as a disability community full of real people, the stories that are told fall flat, don’t speak to our reality, and are often harmful to us."

Gross also points to how the film revolves around a character becoming the guardian of her autistic sister. "If the autistic character is an adult, like the actress playing her, the focus on guardianship is extremely concerning," she explains. "Families of young adults with disabilities are often steered towards guardianship, which involves removing a person’s legal rights. Alternatives to guardianship, such as supported decision-making, can be used to help people with all levels of support needs, including nonspeaking autistic people, retain their legal rights while still receiving supports in adulthood."

Gross and ASAN found it "deeply disappointing to see Sia using her platform to attack autistic people who’ve spoken up about their concerns about the film." "When you speak over a marginalized community to tell their story without their input, people will object to that," says Gross. "If Sia truly wants to be an ally to the autistic community, she should listen to the feedback she’s getting and learn from autistic people about how we want to be represented."

It goes without saying that some of Sia's reaction is tone-deaf and ruling out any "low functioning" actors because one could not handle it was the wrong thing to do.

As far as Autism Speaks is concerned everybody is being cryptic about their involvement raises suspicion. We have found out when they did not have a role and what they did not do. Nobody has said exactly what they did do. :roll:

That every actor that plays an autistic must be autistic should not be a requirement. If it was we might have been denied what I consider the best representation of an autistic character Wendy in 'Please Stand By' by NT actress Dakota Fanning. And an autistic actor can mess up playing an autistic character because they are doing what actors do playing other people. Besides if as she said there were 13 autistic actors and autistic input that is a lot. In the end what matters is how good the film is and how was the representation not the character of the people acted, directed, or financed it. Those people and the trailer makes me suspicious it will be inspiration porn. But as Sia so inelegantly said one should see the film before judging it. (I won't because I am not into musicals)


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21 Nov 2020, 11:43 am

Basement wrote:
Lots of criticism on the Twitter machine.


The criticism was because they played someone with severe autism.

Advocates like to cover up these people and pretend they don’t exist



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21 Nov 2020, 12:23 pm

I don't know if I'm necessarily opposed to any non-autistic actor playing an autistic role, if they are truly the right person for the part. In this case however, the part may have been inspired by a non-verbal autistic person, but it was written for this allistic actress who Sia uses in her pieces whenever possible. Sia tried to justify the choice by claiming that she considered an autistic actor, but that it would have "cruel" to them.

I've read that the actress, who was 14 at the time, prepared for the role by watching videos posted by autism parents of their children having meltdowns (I'm trying to find more information to verify this). This would of course give a very skewed perspective. There was an interview Sia did about the film where she revealed that during the actress's research she broke down and no longer wanted to do the film out of fear it could seem she was mocking autistics. Sia pushed her to continue.

Sia says that she did years of research in preparation, yet she claimed she didn't know Autism Speaks was considered a hate group within the autism community.

Overall, her reactions to the constructive criticism have been unsettling.

I would really like to see more ASD representation in entertainment (as well as all other types of disabilities). I watched the show Remy a few months ago and it was incredibly refreshing to see an actor with cast to play a character with muscular dystrophy.

While I think there are times that "watch before you make judgements" could be a valid point, I don't think it applies in this case. This is because the issues that people have taken with it cannot be resolved by watching the full film. The issues are more to do with how it's been handled. Additionally, the portrayal which is obvious from the trailers, also seems to reinforce the concerns about perpetuating stereotypes. While a trailer doesn't tell you everything, having an offensive trailer speaks volumes as it's intended to entice people to watch.



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21 Nov 2020, 6:17 pm

AuroraBorealisGazer wrote:
Sia says that she did years of research in preparation, yet she claimed she didn't know Autism Speaks was considered a hate group within the autism community.


Just because you found out about Autism Speaks controversy when you did your research doesn't mean that everyone else will.

The Wikipedia article about autism has this line "At the same time, some organizations, including Autism Speaks, have been condemned by disability rights organizations for exploitative practices, and for failing to support autistic people" that was only added on 22 June 2020.

Before that, it read "Organizations dedicated to promoting awareness of autism include Autism Speaks, Autism National Committee, and Autism Society of America.[212] Social-science scholars study those with autism in hopes to learn more about "autism as a culture, transcultural comparisons... and research on social movements."

Line added: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Autism&oldid=963992861

Before: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Autism&oldid=963859036

Anyone who used Wikipedia as a starting point for research about autism would not have found out about the controversy surrounding Autism Speaks if they visited the page before 22 June 2020.

AuroraBorealisGazer wrote:
Overall, her reactions to the constructive criticism have been unsettling.


Sia's "Maybe you're a bad actor" was a response to ""Several autistic actors, myself included, responded to these tweets. We all said we could have acted in it on short notice. These excuses are just that - excuses. The fact of the matter is zero effort was made to include anyone who is actually autistic. #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs”.

I wouldn't call that constructive criticism, especially after Sia has tried to work with a non verbal girl, hired 13 neuroatypical people + 3 trans folk, based the movie on her neuroatypical friend, etc...
That is hardly what I would call "zero effort".

AuroraBorealisGazer wrote:
Sia tried to justify the choice by claiming that she considered an autistic actor, but that it would have "cruel" to them.


The tweets I could find about this are:

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

2: I did try. It felt more compassionate to use Maddie. That was my call.

"She found it unpleasant and stressful" could mean anything, ranging from the actress indicating that on an AAC device to the actress having a meltdown on set.

Based on the "compassionate" tweet, and assuming that Sia is a normal human being who doesn't like to cause harm to others, I would think the explanation leans more towards the meltdown end of things. A normal human being who doesn't like to cause harm to others would have been absolutely horrified to be the cause of a non-verbal girl's meltdown and would probably not go find another one to possibly cause the same pain.

Now, I don't know what really happened. But neither do all of these folks on Twitter bashing Sia. There isn't enough information.



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21 Nov 2020, 8:07 pm

Dvdz wrote:
AuroraBorealisGazer wrote:
Sia says that she did years of research in preparation, yet she claimed she didn't know Autism Speaks was considered a hate group within the autism community.


Just because you found out about Autism Speaks controversy when you did your research doesn't mean that everyone else will.


Did I say that? No.
She is someone who's been working on making this film for many years. She had the resources and the responsibility to do it properly. If she had taken the time to talk to members of the ASD community and consult with them on the film, she would have known.

Dvdz wrote:
The Wikipedia article about autism has this line "At the same time, some organizations, including Autism Speaks, have been condemned by disability rights organizations for exploitative practices, and for failing to support autistic people" that was only added on 22 June 2020.

Before that, it read "Organizations dedicated to promoting awareness of autism include Autism Speaks, Autism National Committee, and Autism Society of America.[212] Social-science scholars study those with autism in hopes to learn more about "autism as a culture, transcultural comparisons... and research on social movements."

Line added: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Autism&oldid=963992861

Before: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Autism&oldid=963859036

Anyone who used Wikipedia as a starting point for research about autism would not have found out about the controversy surrounding Autism Speaks if they visited the page before 22 June 2020.


Wikipedia does not equate to research.
If she used this as a primary resource then she has no business making a film about ASD or anything else that requires research.

Dvdz wrote:
Sia's "Maybe you're a bad actor" was a response to ""Several autistic actors, myself included, responded to these tweets. We all said we could have acted in it on short notice. These excuses are just that - excuses. The fact of the matter is zero effort was made to include anyone who is actually autistic. #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs”.

I wouldn't call that constructive criticism, especially after Sia has tried to work with a non verbal girl, hired 13 neuroatypical people + 3 trans folk, based the movie on her neuroatypical friend, etc...
That is hardly what I would call "zero effort".


I don't know why you think I was calling that quote in particular, constructive criticism. I wasn't.

The quotes from this celebrity that you posted do not prove a point.

Claiming she tried to work with a non-verbal girl merely indicates that after one attempt she gave up and went with the same actress she uses repeatedly. It seems convenient.

I don't know what a neuroatypical is supposed to be. Does she mean neurodiverse? It is a strange statement. It sounds like when politicians try to justify themselves to people of color by pointing out all the people of color on their staff, or that they know. Besides she fails to state their roles or how many 13 is out of the entire crew. If these people are just working as extras or grips, they will have little to no say.

This friend she references is actually the child of her friend, yes? So she knows an autism parent. Cool. Means nothing. If you've met one autistic, you've met ONE austistic.

You're welcome to believe that those things are indicators of effort, but none of them actually go above the bare minimum.



AuroraBorealisGazer wrote:
Sia tried to justify the choice by claiming that she considered an autistic actor, but that it would have "cruel" to them.

Dvdz wrote:
The tweets I could find about this are:

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

2: I did try. It felt more compassionate to use Maddie. That was my call.

"She found it unpleasant and stressful" could mean anything, ranging from the actress indicating that on an AAC device to the actress having a meltdown on set.

Based on the "compassionate" tweet, and assuming that Sia is a normal human being who doesn't like to cause harm to others, I would think the explanation leans more towards the meltdown end of things. A normal human being who doesn't like to cause harm to others would have been absolutely horrified to be the cause of a non-verbal girl's meltdown and would probably not go find another one to possibly cause the same pain.

Now, I don't know what really happened. But neither do all of these folks on Twitter bashing Sia. There isn't enough information.


Her responses provide plenty of insight into it. She's pandering. She wanted to make inspiration porn for abled individuals to have feel good "aww" moments over. When people tried to explain why the way she went about it was tone deaf, she lashed out, instead of trying to understand our point of view. How does someone make a movie about us but disregard how it makes us feel?

Additionally, I must point out that there are places other that Twitter to read about these things. The OP posted several articles. Reading comments on that platform will inevitably skew your perspective based on your emotional responses. The articles tend to present the arguments in a way that gives you the information necessary. I find this to be beneficial in forming less emotional opinions.



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22 Nov 2020, 3:08 am

Variety

Quote:
Hudson plays the free-spirited Zu, an addict estranged from her family who suddenly finds herself the sole guardian of her half-sister, played by Ziegler, a teenager on the autism spectrum. Ziegler’s special abilities challenge Zu and she learns to overcome life’s obstacles with help from Music’s neighbor, Ebo (Odom Jr.).


Oke, this reads as your general uninspired feel-good musical movie with a bit of rainman added to it.

deadline

The trailer in this article pretty much reinforced my opinion that this movie comes across as an uninspired feel-good flick. And after watching that trailer for a second time while trying to look at the facial expressions of the autistic character, her smiling comes across as weird. Almost like they are meant to mock/make fun of something. And in this context, a non-comedic movie, yeah....



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22 Nov 2020, 3:59 am

AuroraBorealisGazer wrote:
She is someone who's been working on making this film for many years. She had the resources and the responsibility to do it properly. If she had taken the time to talk to members of the ASD community and consult with them on the film, she would have known.


According to https://www.cbsnews.com/news/sia-responds-autism-criticism/, she had two autistic consultants on the film. I don't know where they sourced that from but she did talk to members of the ASD community and she still didn't know about Autism Speaks.

This is most probably because:
1) They didn't know about Autism Speaks as an organisation,
or
2) They knew but didn't know about the controversy,
or
3) They liked Autism Speaks
or
4) Nobody asked because Autism Speaks only approached Sia 4 years after the film was finished

And while it is possible, it is unlikely that it is because Sia is a horrible human being.

I provided the Wikipedia example just to illustrate how two people who accessed the page at different times might come to know different things about Autism Speaks.

AuroraBorealisGazer wrote:
I don't know what a neuroatypical is supposed to be. Does she mean neurodiverse? It is a strange statement. It sounds like when politicians try to justify themselves to people of color by pointing out all the people of color on their staff, or that they know. Besides she fails to state their roles or how many 13 is out of the entire crew. If these people are just working as extras or grips, they will have little to no say.

This friend she references is actually the child of her friend, yes? So she knows an autism parent. Cool. Means nothing. If you've met one autistic, you've met ONE austistic.

You're welcome to believe that those things are indicators of effort, but none of them actually go above the bare minimum.


In the tweet that I linked to, Sia said she casted these 13+3, so they are actors. There are 41 cast members listed on [url="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7541720/fullcredits/"]IMDB[/url]. This means 39% (16/41) of the cast are neuroatypical, or neurodiverse as you say it.

You are welcome to believe that this is the bare minimum.



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22 Nov 2020, 9:47 am

This is proof of the elitist and abilist nature of many in the so called “autistic advocacy movement”

Was there an outcry when a neurotypical played an autistic character in “The good doctor” no

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freddie_Highmore


So what’s the difference you may ask?

The difference is it’s someone with severe autism that’s been played, not a fake character with superhuman abilities (something hardly any of us have) but an all too real portrayal of the disabling consequences of severe autism.

They are ashamed of them, they are the turd in their punch bowl of claiming autism is a natural difference and not a real biological disability that cannot be overcome by just simple acceptance and societal measures.

They just want to brush them under the carpet & whitewash the condition. This is the kind of behaviour usually seen on twitter where autistic mums get harsh treatment & called "martyr mums" if they voice anything that betrays the hardships themselves or children suffer.

Another thing if someone really thinks a severely mentally disabled person with severe autism ( as is portrayed), who may be intellectually disabled is probably going to be able to act, remember what they have to do, deal with sensory issues dance and sing they are completely delusional.



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22 Nov 2020, 11:05 am

carlos55 wrote:
This is proof of the elitist and abilist nature of many in the so called “autistic advocacy movement”

Was there an outcry when a neurotypical played an autistic character in “The good doctor” no


So what’s the difference you may ask?

The difference is it’s someone with severe autism that’s been played, not a fake character with superhuman abilities (something hardly any of us have) but an all too real portrayal of the disabling consequences of severe autism.

They are ashamed of them, they are the turd in their punch bowl of claiming autism is a natural difference and not a real biological disability that cannot be overcome by just simple acceptance and societal measures.

They just want to brush them under the carpet & whitewash the condition. This is the kind of behaviour usually seen on twitter where autistic mums get harsh treatment & called "martyr mums" if they voice anything that betrays the hardships themselves or children suffer.

Another thing if someone really thinks a severely mentally disabled person with severe autism ( as is portrayed), who may be intellectually disabled is probably going to be able to act, remember what they have to do, deal with sensory issues dance and sing they are completely delusional.

I believe “Warrior Moms” is the term they first used to describe themselves a positive description and ND advocates turned it into a pejorative later on.
Mother Warriors: A Nation of Parents Healing Autism Against All Odds by Jenny McCarthy from 2009

Dear Autism Mom, You Are a Warrior

Autism Warrior Mom Hat

Autism Warrior Mom and Dad mugs





As far as Freddie Highmore is concerned in one of the critical articles I read about Sia Highmore was listed among NT actors playing autistics. That was described as a bad thing.

Exclusive: 'The Good Doctor' Star Tamlyn Tomita Responds to the Show's Biggest Criticism - 2018
Quote:
The show faced some criticism after it was revealed that a person with autism would not be playing the lead


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22 Nov 2020, 1:25 pm

Dvdz wrote:
In the tweet that I linked to, Sia said she casted these 13+3, so they are actors. There are 41 cast members listed on [url="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7541720/fullcredits/"]IMDB[/url]. This means 39% (16/41) of the cast are neuroatypical, or neurodiverse as you say it.

You are welcome to believe that this is the bare minimum.


They don't get special social kudos for hiring people with disabilities anymore than a company does for hiring non-caucasians. Like I said, her waving that tidbit around like she deserves pats on the back, is akin to a pubic figure making racist remarks and then pointing out the people of color on their staff.


Let's get back to the actual issues that are causing upset in the ASD community:
1) Her responses to community members and how that has spurred similarly hateful responses from her supporters.
2) The way the main character is portrayed in the film and how that impacts the mainstream's perception of autism.