Sia Cancelled Over Movie About Autism

Sia Cancelled Over Movie About Autism

Breanna Reynolds, Writer

Sia, an Austrian pop-star, has been involved in a recent controversy over her latest piece, named “music”. A nearly two hour long movie centered around a story of a girl who finds herself the full-time guardian of her autistic half-sister. On Rotten Tomatoes it has a 10% critic rating and a 15% audience rating. So, what’s so wrong with the movie?

The first thing that people noticed was that the autistic sister was being played by Maddie Ziegler, a non-autistic actress. This didn’t immediately turn people against it but it did cast doubt on how well she’d be able to properly convey how autistic people act in real life. The character was also meant to be mixed race, which Ziegler was not, so they tanned her in an effort to make her seem more “ethnic”. This led to many comparisons of black face. 

When it comes to the part of acting autistic, it was horribly done. It created the effect of a bad stereotype and I’ve yet to find a review from someone actually autistic that can relate to what was portrayed. I’d like to note that this isn’t necessarily the fault of Ziegler, it’s far more likely that she was just doing the best she could with the script handed to her. 

Sia was very aggressive with anyone who criticized her casting choices, responding to someone on Twitter saying that she made “zero effort” for inclusion with “F—-ing bulls–t. You have no f—-ing idea because you weren’t there and haven’t seen the movie. Maybe you’re just a bad actor.”

As one may assume, people weren’t a fan of that response. She later claimed that she did have several non-verbal autistic actors try out for the role but they found acting in the role to be “too stressful” and that it felt “More compassionate to cast Maddie.” There is no proof of these auditions taking place and she’s been working with Ziegler for several years now, including saying that she “didn’t want to make art if it didn’t include her,” in the same interview where the above statements were taken. 

In another interview, Sia claimed that Ziegler “cried on the first day of rehearsals and she was really scared and said ‘I don’t want anyone to think I’m making fun of them.’ I bold-facedly said ‘I won’t let that happen.’” This only drew more attention to the lack of actual autistic people involved in the movie at all, not even on the writing or directing board. 

There are several scenes with flashing lights which aren’t good for many autistic people. Drawing out the question of, why would you include unnecessary things that make it harder for the community of people your movie is about to watch? There are also several scenes which include people physically restraining the autistic character when they’re having a meltdown. This is an outdated practice and is very harmful to the autistic person. Meltdowns are a natural reaction to being overwhelmed. That should be addressed by removing the autistic person from the situation and helping to provide things that can regulate their sensory intake. She received massive amounts of backlash over this and, at the Golden Globe awards, apologized and said that they’d be adding a warning to the start of the movie saying that they don’t condone the practice. 

Drawing out the question of, why would you include unnecessary things that make it harder for the community of people your movie is about to watch?”

The controversy doesn’t end here, it only gets worse. The organization “Autism Speaks” reached out to Sia and expressed interest in being a part of her project. She accepted. You may recognize the group by their logo, a puzzle piece. The problem however is one of the first things you learn when researching autism is that “Autism Speaks” is a hate group. No one helping run the organization is autistic, they mostly focus on how hard autism can make the life of the parents, and their main goal is to find a ‘cure’ for it. You can’t cure autism. It’s a difference in brain development, not a disease. I would say that there’s absolutely no excuse for working with this group. 

She originally used the involvement of “Autism Speaks” as a reason why her film shouldn’t be getting the backlash it is. She later backtracked on this point saying, “Autism Speaks came on board long after the film was finished, four years in fact. I had no idea it was such a polarizing group!” 

She had previously Tweeted out “I spend three f—-ing years researching.” But, as I mentioned before, Autism Speaks being a bad organization is one of the first things you learn. There’s a reason situations like this can’t just be ignored. 

When I was growing up my mother worked for a Lexington disabled home. They specialize in taking care of people with developmental disabilities. Due to this I was exposed to more types of people than many my age would have been. Skip to 7th grade biology, Gloversville School District. My science teacher showed us a slideshow of different disabilities because we were doing a unit on chromosomes. I made a comment on how I didn’t understand why people think that people with disabilities are scary and she yelled at me. She gave me a lecture on “how ashamed their parents must feel,” (“their parents” being the parents of those with disabilities). 

That’s exactly the type of mindset being preserved by those like Sia and “Autism Speaks.” There’s no reason for parents to be ashamed of their disabled child, they just have different needs from an able child. 

It’s incredibly condescending to say that you were against casting an autistic actor in an autistic role because you thought it’d be more compassionate. Autistic adults aren’t children, they can make their own decisions. They have autonomy. Even people who are non-verbal are able to communicate with things like sign language, writing, drawing, and body language. You wouldn’t talk about any other adult that way.

 What do you think of the situation? Personally, my takeaway is that Sia has some sort of savior complex but I’m always open to other thoughts. Feel free to comment below!




Malone, Chris. “Maddie Ziegler Cried On Her First Day of Rehearsals For Sia’s 

     New Movie ‘Music.'” Cheat Sheet, 5 Jan. 2021, 



Shafer, Ellise. “Sia Adds Warning Label to ‘Music’ Movie, Apologizes to Autism 

     Community on Heels of Golden Globes Nominations.” Variety, 3 Feb. 2021, 



Willingham, Emily. “Why Autism Speaks Doesn’t Speak For Me.” Forbes, 13 Nov.




Willman, Chris. “Sia Engages in Fiery Twitter Debate With Disability Activists 

     Over Autism-Themed Film.” Variety, 20 Nov. 2020,