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A complete breakdown of the controversy surrounding Sia's "offensive" new movie.

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Sia Furler has always had a complicated relationship with fame.

The ultra-private Australian singer-songwriter has spent years masking herself from attention with long-fringed wigs and comically large hats.

But despite her best efforts to fend off fame, Sia has once again found herself at the centre of a social media storm. 

It all began when the trailer for Sia's directional debut, Music, was released.

Watch the trailer for Sia's film, Music, below. Post continues after video.


Video via Atlantic Films.

Produced, directed and co-written by Sia, Music is a story about a newly sober drug dealer (Kate Hudson) who finds herself the sole guardian of her sister (Maddie Ziegler), a teenager who lives with additional needs.

When the trailer was released, criticism mounted over the casting of Maddie Ziegler, an 18-year-old dancer who achieved worldwide fame through her performances in Sia's music videos. 

On social media, advocates expressed their disappointment the role wasn't given to a neuro-diverse actor. In response, the 45-year-old, who has since deleted her Twitter account, fiercely defended her decision.

"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," she wrote.

In response, one user wrote: "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."

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"Maybe you're just a bad actor," Sia responded.

In an interview with The Sydney Morning HeraldSia admitted that she "f**ked up" by sending the tweets. "Looking back, I should have just shut up; I know that now," she said.

But three months later, Sia's Music is facing controversy once again.

Why is Sia's new movie Music causing controversy?

Amid the release of Music, Sia's directional debut is facing a new wave of controversy.

Although the film has received nominations at the Golden Globe Awards, the film has largely been panned by critics, receiving overwhelmingly negative reviews.

On website Rotten Tomatoes, the film currently has an average rating of 3.9/10. The website's critic consensus reads: "Offensive in its depiction of autism — and painfully misguided in essentially every respect — Music is a vanity project that begs to be turned down." 

In reviews, critics described the film as "embarrassingly out of touch".

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As Matthew Rosza wrote for Salon, "[It's not] just offensive; it’s patronising. The central role is played in a way that had already been recognised as embarrassingly out of touch more than a decade ago. It’s inexcusable." 

Similarly, IndieWire's David Ehrlich wrote: "Sia's directorial debut is an absolute train wreck."

"Every baffling minute of Sia’s profoundly ill-conceived directorial debut will make you ask 'why?' in a different way," he wrote.

On Twitter, a thread dissecting the film's opening scene went viral.

"The performance is a caricature of autistic body language," The Autisticats, a page run by three autistic adults, shared.

"It’s unsettling, and insincere. And it’s deeply reminiscent of the exaggerated mannerisms non-autistic people often employ when bullying autistic and developmentally disabled people for the ways we move."

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Now, after receiving a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, thousands are calling for the film's nomination to be revoked.

At the time of publishing, the online petition has received more than 102,000 signatures.

"Sia's debut movie Music is severely ableist and contributes to harmful stereotypes of autistic people," the petition’s creators, Rosanna Kataja and Nina Skov Jensen, wrote in the description. 

"Sia has claimed the movie is a 'love letter to the autism community', however, the music segments are filled with strobing lights, colours, loud sounds, and quick camera movements, which is very overstimulating," they continued.

"The fact that Music has been nominated for two Golden Globes awards illustrates the complete disregard the entire entertainment industry has for inclusivity and minority representation."

Image: Change.org. 

What has Sia said about the film?

In January 2021, Sia responded to the backlash regarding her decision to cast Maddie Ziegler during an appearance on The Project.

"I realised it wasn’t ableism — I mean, it is ableism, I guess, as well — but it’s actually nepotism, because I can’t do a project without her," she said.

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"I don’t want to. I wouldn’t make art if it didn’t include her."

She also shared that Ziegler was "scared" about taking on the lead role in Music.

"She just said, 'I don’t want anyone to think I’m making fun of them,'" the singer-producer explained. "And I bald-facedly said, 'I won’t let that happen.'"

She continued, "I realised I couldn’t really protect her from that, which I thought I could."

In February, Sia was criticised for scenes in Music that showed Ziegler's character getting restrained — something advocates have condemned. In fact, The National Autism Association described the scenes involving the restraint of Ziegler's character as "dangerous and abusive".

In response, Sia apologised, adding the scene will be removed "from all future printings" of the film.

Listen to Mamamia's daily entertainment podcast, The Spill, below. Post continues after podcast.

"I’m sorry," she tweeted.

"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."

She continued: "I promise I have been listening. The motion picture Music will, moving forward, have a warning at the head of the movie."

The singer-songwriter has since deleted her Twitter account.

What has Maddie Ziegler said about the film?

In January, Maddie Ziegler said she was "honoured" to play the lead role in Music.

"I love this movie so much," she told Germany's Cinema magazine.

"Taking on a character like this, I was sold because of the dream fantasy world. Of this imagination that Music is transformed into. That creative side, that unity, and love and community that all comes together in the end is really beautiful. And that's why I'm attached to it so much."

Maddie Ziegler in Music. Image: Atlantic Films. 

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Since then, however, Ziegler has largely remained silent on the film's controversy. 

"I’ve actually stayed out of all of it just because, you know, I’m 18 years old and it’s a lot of pressure," she told The Independent. 

"I understand why people would want someone who’s actually on the spectrum with autism to play this character. But in terms of the dance sequences, I think that’s why Sia chose me to bring the dream world to life. It was all [made] with good intentions and with a good heart."

What has Kate Hudson said about the film?

Kate Hudson, who has been nominated for a Golden Globe for her role in the film, has also responded to the criticism saying that it's "an important conversation to have".

"I think when people see the film, they will see the amount of love and sensitivity that was put into it," she said on a recent interview on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

"It is an important conversation to have, and it’s not just about this movie, but as a whole, about representation. For me, when I hear that there’s anybody that feels left out I feel terrible."

Kate Hudson on Jimmy Kimmel Live: Image: ABC.

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"Nobody has really asked me [about the backlash], they have only asked me to comment on it through a quote," she added.

"It’s not a soundbite conversation, I think it’s an ongoing, important dialogue to be had about neurotypical actors portraying neurodivergent characters. It is an important one to have with people who are experts and really know how to engage in the conversation, so I encourage it, really, truly. We are listening."

The 41-year-old went on to say that "it's our job to listen and encourage more conversation".

"The spectrum is so wide and should be approached with far more conversation and understanding of how can we be more representative, what are the best ways to do that." 

"We want to tell the best stories we can. There is no one who wants to upset anybody. When people feel upset about anything, it's our job to listen and encourage more conversation with other people who want to tell these stories."

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This article was originally published on February 18, 2021, and was updated on February 21, 2021.

Feature Image: Atlantic Films/Twitter.

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