Sia’s Movie Music (2021) is Ripped Apart by Critics

It has been of utmost importance that we continue taking a look at projects within the entertainment industry that add to social progress. Therefore, representation has been a key aspect when it comes to criticizing films, a contingency that hadn’t been important until movements like Black Lives Matter arose. Representation in films has been controversial, and a massive hit or miss for many directors who do attempt to be inclusive.

Sia, the producer and director of Music (2021), released a movie whose plot revolves around an autistic main character.

The movie follows “Zu”, a drug addict in recovery, who must take care of her younger sister Music, following the death of their grandmother and becoming estranged from the family. Renowned actress Kate Hudson plays the character “Zu” and famous dancer Maddie Ziegler from Dance Moms plays the autistic character Music.

It is important to note that Maddie Ziegler and Sia had worked together before on her music video “Elastic Heart” which was a success.

While the movie gained a lot of publicity, most of it was for its controversy. It was a failure in the box office, making a little over half a million from a sixteen million dollar budget (Box Office Mojo; USA Today).

This may be a result of many boycotting the movie closely before and after its release for the misrepresentation of autism on screen.

Maddie Ziegler is a neurotypical young woman, whereas the character she plays is neurodivergent.
Therefore, many neurodivergent and neurotypical individuals had already decided that, before even its release, they would not see the movie. Many people, most fans of Sia and Ziegler, thought that having a neurodivergent actor play a neurodivergent character was the right thing to do.

That way, we could normalize having those in the autism spectrum on screen.

Personally, the only neurodivergent actress I have seen on the big screen is Jamie Brewer, who plays Nan in American Horror Story’s season Coven, and does an explendid job as the character.

Her act exudes emotion; empowerment, fear, and conviction. Therefore, there are actresses and actors out there who are neurodivergent and seeking jobs that are usually taken by neurotypical actors, and that is why many boycotted Sia’s Music (2021).

Critics at Rotten Tomatoes had brief but powerful commentary, stating that Music (2021) contains “depictions of autism and autistic behavior that are at best misguided and even arguably dangerous, this bafflingly star-studded film insults the people it tries to represent.” To sum it up, Music (2021) received a 7% on the Tomatometer and a 14% on the audience score.

However, Sia did respond to and tried to defend her choice over Twitter for casting Maddie Ziegler to play a neurodivergent character.

She stated, “My character was pretty low functioning and after attempting a few actors on the spectrum they suggested I use Maddie… I actually tried working with a [sic] beautiful young girl non verbal on the spectrum and she found it unpleasant and stressful. So that’s why I cast Maddie.” Judging by the audience’s boycott, this response only made things worse.

Critic Matt Zoller Seitz stated, “Please bear in mind that I’m not blaming the actress. It is the responsibility of the director, screenwriters, and producers to oversee matters of authenticity and provide depth and nuance to a role such as this. Nevertheless: What I saw in the dramatic scenes that center Music were, with few exceptions, so bad that I didn’t want to look at the screen when the character was on it.”

To summarize the movie, it is so awkward and stereotyped that it makes it difficult to face the screen.
Sia reminded the public over and over again that her heart was in the right place, which may be true. However, many of her decisions were seen as crass, including her responses to the backlash.
In one statement, she said, “[I] cast thirteen neuroatypical people, three trans folk, and not as … prostitutes or drug addicts but as doctors, nurses and singers… sad nobody’s even seen the dang movie.”

A few canceled Sia after casting Maddie Ziegler to play Music, but many more canceled her as a result of her outbursts over Twitter. It is this outburst and cancel movement which opens another can of worms; should entertainment figures be “canceled” over their mistakes? How do you measure when or why a public figure deserves to be canceled? Are we accounting for the fact that they are, essentially, normal people with varying degrees of fame?

Personally, I have yet to decide to what extent must someone make a mistake for me to “cancel” them.
Maddie Ziegler was not spared either. She was accused of being an “ableist” for playing a neurodivergent character and in a very controversial way too.

Although Music is a low-functioning autistic child, at one point in the movie, she is physically restrained by her half sister “Zu”. Many found it distasteful and highly unethical. Though Ziegler is continuously praised for her dancing skills, she received much backlash for her terrible acting.

After much thought about the movie, I cannot decide if condemning Sia or “canceling” her is the appropriate response to her film.

However, some of the executive choices made in regards to the film were atrocious, and deserve a negative response. It is only then that we can, as an audience, correct mistakes and expect better from those who are in positions of power within the entertainment industry.