Sia is a pop superstar known for both her quirky artistic choices and her stunning vocals on hits like « Chandelier » and « Cheap Thrills. ». The Australian musician took inspiration from her father – also a musician – when she was a child, and she took the initiative to work with several bands across London before embarking on a solo career and moving to New York in 2005. Along the way, she decided that her style would involve making a conscious choice to hide her face, and she also became known as a prolific songwriter who sought out many top pop stars to write her own work.
Now Sia is branching out into the movie world with her new release, Music, but this is trending for all the wrong reasons as Sia faces a backlash on casting decisions.
Sia is not afraid of controversial creative decisions. The singer has a longstanding creative relationship with dance star Maddie Ziegler, who was only 10 years old when she caught Sia’s gaze at Dance Moms. Ziegler performed dramatic and incredibly emotional dance performances for several Sia videos, one of which caused a stir.
For « Elastic Heart », an 11-year-old Ziegler appeared in a cage with a shirtless Shia LaBeouf – a controversial star known for his extreme acting. In the video, Ziegler and LaBeouf perform a dramatic and very intimate dance, and many fans were appalled that such a young child – clad only in a bare leotard – would be placed in such a position.
Ziegler – now grown up – called the experience “a journey”: “He was so protective, so collaborative and made me feel really safe, which was great. But he’s obviously a method when it comes to acting. When it came to filming, he was like going round the cage, hitting the cage, and I just sat there like an 11 year old like, ‘OK like I’m ready to film’. It was intense. ”
The relationship between Ziegler and Sia is clearly still strong, as Ziegler starred in Sia’s new film Music. Ziegler plays the theme music, an autistic girl struggling with the death of her grandmother. While some fans were excited about the announcement because they would finally hear Ziegler sing, others wept over the choice of casting. Sia was already ashamed of putting Ziegler in the spotlight at such a young age, and now she’s helped put her in the crosshairs of another controversy.
Many question the fact that Ziegler is an autistic person, but is not himself autistic. There is a long history in the film industry of depicting neurodiverse individuals without actual neurodiverse actors being included in these roles. Those in the disability activist community are frustrated with the lack of representation and being misrepresented on screen in ways that harm the public’s understanding of neurodiversity.
The Autism Speaks group added even more fuel to the fire, as reported by Variety, and were involved in the making of the film. This caused even more anger in the activist community. Autism Speaks has long been held up as an abusive and exploitative organization. Emily Willingham wrote for Forbes in 2013: “You have a poor track record of showing respect for people with autism. Autism Speaking critics claim that the organization aims to « cure » autism, often using harmful and abusive techniques, rather than understanding it, and talk about autistic people rather than letting them share their own experiences and needs.
When Sia got a backlash over the decision to put a neurotypical actor in the role of an autistic character, she caused even more outrage by responding to an autistic actor who said she and many other autistic actors were for the film may be available. « Maybe you’re just a bad actor, » Sia snapped back.
That defensive retort did little to calm the controversy and has now spread the conversation even more, including among sources like USA Today. While Sia continues to insist that people watch the movie before passing judgment, watching it goes too far in ending the frustration at the lack of representation or anger at Sia’s dismissive response to the criticism.
Sia, music, Maddie Ziegler
EbeneMagazine – AU – Sia grabs autistic actor after backlash over new film ‘Music’
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