Sia Gets Into Twitter Fight With Disability Advocates Following Backlash For Upcoming Film

The trailer for Sia’s directorial debut, “Music,” was released on Thursday and was met with a wave of criticism after an actor without autism was cast to play a character on the autism spectrum.

Sia attends the world premiere of "Annie" at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York on December 7, 2014. | AP Images
Sia attends the world premiere of "Annie" at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York on December 7, 2014. | AP Images

Performer and songwriter Sia is facing backlash after the first trailer for her forthcoming film, “Music,” showed an actor without autism portraying the main character, who has autism. 

The trailer was released on Thursday and centers around the relationship between two half sisters. IMDb describes the character Music as “a young girl on the autism spectrum.” She is played by Sia’s longtime collaborator, dancer and actor Maddie Ziegler. The 44-year-old Sia co-wrote and directed the film, which also stars Kate Hudson and Leslie Odom, Jr., and is set to be released in 2021. 

Sia got into several arguments with people on Twitter who criticized the film’s casting decision and the trailer for misrepresenting people with autism. 

Several advocates for people with disabilities took issue with Ziegler’s casting, as she is not on the autism spectrum. Many accused Sia of ableism, which is described as “the discrimination of and social prejudice against people with disabilities based on the belief that typical abilities are superior,” according to the advocacy organization Access Living. 

After several people tweeted at Sia criticizing the trailer and Ziegler’s casting, one person defended the director by saying, “the reasoning for the non autistic actor is that it was shot in just a few months and Sia didn’t want to pressure anyone.” 

Others responded to the comment, including a Twitter user who said they are an actor with autism who would have “acted in it on short notice.” Sia replied, saying, “Maybe you’re just a bad actor.” The singer replied to the same person two more times, one time asserting that, “You have no f*cking idea because you weren’t there and haven’t seen the movie.”

Sia responded to several other tweets, including one person who asked why she didn’t cast a person who has autism. Sia said she did initially cast an actor with autism who was non-verbal, but the actor “found it extremely stressful and overwhelming.” She also told one person it would have been “cruel, not kind” to cast someone at the character’s “level of functioning.” 

Sia also tweeted that she spent three years researching for the movie and that there are thirteen neurotypical people in the movie as well as two people on the autism spectrum advising her at all times. 

Sia attempted to defend the movie and her casting decision. “Please give us a chance. Our intentions are good, meaningful, loving,” she said. But many people expressed their frustration and disappointment.