Oof, where do we start with Sia’s directorial debut, “Music”?
Let’s talk about what the movie’s premise is first. The movie follows Zu (played by Kate Hudson). She is a free-spirited, sober, drug dealer who finds out that her estranged, teenage, autistic half-sister, Music (Maddie Ziegler), has been placed in her care following the death of her grandmother. She struggles with this new responsibility but finds comfort in the form of her neighbour and friend, Ebo (Leslie Odom Jr.). The musical drama is described as being an exploration of ” the tenuous bonds that hold us together and imagines a world where those bonds can be strengthened in times of great challenge”. According to Sia, the character of Music in the movie is “based completely on [her] neuro-atypical friend”. Sia has said:
“This movie is a love letter to everyone who has ever felt they didn’t have a voice. What an incredible, exciting and unbelievable experience.”
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However, as soon as the trailer was released in November, it was hit with a barrage of criticism for casting an able-bodied person (Ziegler) to play someone with autism. At the time, 45-year-old Australian had said, in response to the backlash, that she had “actually tried working with a beautiful young girl, non-verbal on the spectrum” but that the role was “unpleasant and stressful” for the young girl, and thus led to Sia’s choice to bring back long-time collaborator Ziegler. Another point of concern is Sia’s use of the term “special abilities” instead of “disabled”, with the latter preferred by people with disabilities. Sia also responded to this as well, but only served to further erk critics by saying in a tweet:
“The movie is both a love letter to caregivers and to the autism community. I have my own unique view of the community, and felt it is underrepresented and compelled to make it. If that makes me a s*** I’m a s***, but my intentions are awesome.”
She later noted on her now-deleted Twitter account that there are “thirteen people on the spectrum in the movie,” chastising critics who were judging her movie without having seen it in full. Amongst the tweets the ‘Chandelier’ singer had responded with, were:
“F****** bull***. You have no f****** idea because you weren’t there and haven’t seen the movie.”
“Grrrrrrrrrr. F***ity f*** why don’t you watch my film before you judge it? FURY.”
And now that people have in fact watched the movie… well… They seem to hate it even more. Not only are movie critics covering the extensive damage that the movie is doing to the public perception of people with disabilities, with reviews like:
“‘Music’ is the cinematic equivalent of having someone who claims to be your friend pat you on the head for 100 minutes and say, ‘Aren’t you cuuuuute?’ It cares about autistic people, I sense, but it isn’t listening to us. The result is one of the most grotesque films I’ve ever seen, a movie that literally left me staring in shock with my mouth agape for much of its running time.”
“Was Sia wearing a two-toned wig in front of her face while she directed ‘Music’? ‘Music’ is totally unwatchable […] It’s an uncomfortably heightened imitation that never rings true and verges on mockery.”
Critics on Rotten Tomatoes haven’t gone easy on the movie either, giving it a 14% (the atrocity of a musical comedy that is the 2019 film ‘Cat’s’ got 20%).
Taking into account Sia’s responses to critics, the depictions of disabled people in the movie, as well as the inclusion of restraint in sequences involving Music (despite agreeing earlier to remove it from the movie), over 45,000 people have now signed a petition calling for the Golden Globes to rescind all nominations that the movie has picked up. These include “Best Musical/Comedy Picture” and “Best Musical/Comedy Actress: Kate Hudson”. The petition states:
“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. It will only use autism as inspirational p*** to make neurotypicals feel good about their supposed ‘superiority’”.
The petition also goes on to demand that HanWay Films and Vertical Entertainment immediately stop the distribution of the movie, while also asking that the actors involved apologize and distance themselves from the movie. As of yet, none of the cast members involved in the movie have responded to the backlash.
*Cover image credit: Instagram / @siamusic