By now I’m sure some of you will have come across discussion surrounding a debut feature film by Sia, if you haven’t, you can read about it here. It has raised many concerns over ableism in the film and television industry. The film centres around a teenage girl called “Music” who is non-speaking and autistic, and her half-sister who has become her legal guardian.
The film uses musical fantasy scenes to depict how Music sees the world. If done right, this could be a really interesting film. I personally love musicals, and am all for decent representations of autistic people in the media. So why am I disappointed in a film that I haven’t yet seen?
Having watched the trailer, I wasn’t sure how I felt. The interactions they did show appeared to infantilise the autistic teenage character. The character that was depicted seemed to be very stereotypical, and contained little of the nuance that true consultation with autistic people could have provided.
The actor playing Music, Maddie Zeigler, is not autistic. When Sia was confronted by hordes of people about why an autistic actor was not given the role, Sia claimed that she believed an autistic person of that “functioning” level could not have dealt with the stress of filming. At every turn, Sia has doubled down on the casting choices; even going as far as to accuse an actually autistic actor on twitter of being bad at their craft when they spoke out to say that they could have happily performed in the role.
This represents a bigger problem in the world. Despite the two autistic consultants that Sia claims to have utilised, autistic voices are still being erased and ignored. The call of #NothingAboutUsWithOutUS means to have autistic people included on matters that refer to the autistic world. Yet still we are left out of the conversation, and the targets of vitriol when we speak out.
Until autistic people are truly included, and not just in a tokenistic way (as is so clear from the rhetoric surrounding this film), we will never beat the ableism and stigma of our current world. Sia owes autistic people an apology, and it’s about time she gave it to us.