Sia Defends Her Casting Choice For New Movie Portraying Teen With Autism

OPINION | This article contains political commentary which reflects the author's opinion.

A couple of days ago, music star Sia took to Twitter to release a sneak peek of the movie which she wrote and directed, starring Kate Hudson, Leslie Odom Jr., and Maddie Ziegler.

The film, titled “Music,” is about a teenage girl with autism who uses a tablet to express her emotions to the world. She immediately began receiving backlash for her choice to cast a non-disabled actor to portray the main character.

Sia seemed to be surprised by the backlash and responded in an effort to explain her intentions. She stated that she cast a number of neuroatypical and transgendered individuals in the film and further explained that they were cast in positive roles. She also explained that the main character was based “completely on my neuro-atypical friend. He found it too stressful being nonverbal, and I made this movie with nothing but love for him and his mother.”

 

Sia seemed genuinely disappointed in the angry responses, but not all have been angry.

So here are my initial thoughts. Actors act. That’s what they do. They act like someone they are not. They pretend to be someone else. They make every effort to portray the role authentically. Are drug addicts offended when a non-drug addict portrays them? Are schizophrenics offended when a non-schizophrenic portrays them? Are historical figures offended when someone portrays them who did not actually live their same experiences and has to just do their best to portray them accurately?

It would have been amazing to have a young woman with autism cast in the role, but I don’t think the casting is worth the backlash it has received. Sia explained that she had tried to work with a young nonverbal girl and said the girl “found it unpleasant and stressful,” thus she chose to cast Maddie. And I can’t help but wonder, if she had indeed cast a nonverbal young woman on the spectrum to play the part, would there have also been backlash about how insensitive it was of her to profit from and commercialize neuroatypical individuals, especially when so many of them find it difficult to be in chaotic and high-stress situations? Almost seems like a lose/lose situation. And if she will receive backlash for it either way, isn’t it better that she faced the criticism and made the movie anyway in an effort to inform and enlighten? She could have feared the highly critical masses and chosen not to make it at all, sparing herself the criticism.

In the interest of full understanding, I talked to my good friend who has an amazing child on the spectrum. I asked for her take on the whole thing. She said she wasn’t quite sure how she felt about it. On one hand, she said she was so excited for people to be able to get a glimpse into the life of children with autism like her child, and she was excited for her kid and others to be able to see someone like themselves in a movie. So many people have no personal experience and thus no understanding of what it’s like for individuals on the spectrum or their family members. The understanding and exposure will be great. But she also feels like there really are neuroatypical teens who might have been able to play the role and that it would have been amazing for her child not only to see someone like them being portrayed but also starring in the movie.

Sia just hopes you’ll actually watch the movie before you judge it.

So I’m interested. What’s your take on this situation? Do Sia’s intentions matter? Is the “canceling” of Sia and the movie justified? Will the backlash she has received in her effort to address a sensitive issue persuade or dissuade others from likewise trying to address sensitive issues in films?

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