If you haven’t heard, Australian singer-songwriter Sia has been working on producing a new movie. The film is called “Music” and features an autistic protagonist. The movie follows a woman who finds herself in the guardianship of her half-sister Music, who is autistic and nonverbal. Music is portrayed by dancer Maddie Ziegler, who is neither autistic nor neurodivergent. This casting announcement, as well as the harmful stereotypes featured in the movie, have received negative backlash from the autistic community. Even worse, Sia defended her casting choice, and the movie released as planned on January 7. The film is also rumored to be up for a Golden Globes award.
The issue with casting a neurotypical actor to play an autistic character is that it undermines the hundreds of autistic actors who could have been cast to play the role. Representation in the media is important, and it starts with casting actors who will give positive representation. Sia claims that she had originally cast a neurodivergent actress, but that she found the environment and working conditions to be too stressful. It would not have been very hard to find an autistic actor for the role, but Sia’s decision not to speaks loudly on how disabled people have been written out of the narrative.
Another reason this film is harmful is how it feeds into stereotypes and negative depictions of autistic people. The movie portrays autistic people as helpless and unable to take care of themselves, an assumption that is both damaging and incorrect. It also insinuates that they need someone to care for them, which is also incorrect. This also creates the “savior” trope, in which a selfless, caring, neurotypical person takes care of the autistic person. The caretaker/savior trope often implies that autistic people are a burden and their caretaker is an “angel” for caring for them. This movie is supposed to spark positivity and joy, when instead it does the complete opposite. “Music” brings more harm to the autistic community than good.
Whether or not Sia’s intentions were originally good or bad, her decision to cast a neurotypical actor to play a neurodivergent character is extremely problematic and damaging to the autistic community. Autistic people have been fighting against stigmas and discrimination for decades and are just finally starting to see themselves in the media. “Music” undoes all the efforts that neurodivergent people have worked so hard to achieve.
Junior Olivia Post is a co-editor for the 2020-2021 Colonel. She is a member of the music program and the track team. In her free time, Olivia can be found reading or obsessively aligning photos on yearbook spreads.