The Harmful Misrepresentation in Sia’s New Movie Music

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Ally Hjort and Sophie Drees

    First and foremost, we want to urge you not to watch this movie because every view contributes to the success of this film and would support the harmful ideologies promoted within it. As you may have heard by now, ‘Music’ has been very controversial and problematic in its portrayal of an autistic character. 

    To start, many of the people who have viewed this movie criticize the fact that an autistic character, Music, is played by Maddie Ziegler, a neurotypical person. The problem with this is that without an actor who is autistic, chances are the representation of autism may be off or wrong. Several autistic and neurotypical people have claimed that the representation of non-speaking autistic people in the movie is harmful. Throughout the film, Music has a wide smile on her face and exaggerated facial expressions and movements that many people find are on the verge of mockery. While some people on the autistic spectrum do act similarly to Music, the movie takes it a little too far. “It doesn’t really look like she’s attempting to portray a real person,” said Will Lasley, a person with autism, according to usatoday.com. The movie shows scenes of Music being restrained in a way that can be very harmful to autistic people and gives no warning about the scenes at the beginning of the film. Sia, the movie’s writer and producer, apologized for the scenes and said she would have them removed from the movie, but as of now, the scenes have remained. 

    The movie also has bright, flashing lights throughout many of the dancing scenes, which makes the movie unwatchable for people with epilepsy, a condition common among people with autism. Zu, Music’s sister in the film, is a recovering substance abuser. Many people find the representation of a recovering addict was poorly executed, with scenes like the generic ‘pouring alcohol down the drain,’ that could have been written by someone who’s never had an alcoholic drink. Shockingly, the movie has been nominated for two Golden Globes despite the criticism it has received. This film could also be harmful in more impactful ways. Viewers may watch the prone restraint scenes and think that that is an okay way to calm down an autistic person having a meltdown. That specific method of prone restraint has injured and even killed many autistic people in the past, so keeping those scenes in the movie without any warning beforehand was a big calamity.

     As a character, Music’s whole experience as an autistic person was idealized in choosing to take away how hard it is to be any kind of different in this society. People who are marginalized struggle with acceptance from other people, so without showing any of the difficulties in Music’s life, they are failing to properly represent the struggles of autistic people. As for the blackface scene, it goes without saying that non-bi-racial people should not be playing bi-racial people. They even take it further by painting Ziegler’s face a few shades darker and braiding her hair similar to many African American hairstyles. 

    Overall, the misrepresentation of the autistic community, in particular, is quite harmful, especially when a big name such as Sia’s is attached to it. If Sia had hired an autistic actor to play the role of Music and took their input, maybe there would have been fewer problems with the film.