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Sia’s new movie faces backlash for its portrayal of autism

Photo: Dreamstime

Australian pop singer Sia’s upcoming movie is embroiled in controversy, and it hasn’t even come out yet. The singer’s directorial debut, Music, faces backlash for casting non-disabled actor Maddie Ziegler as an autistic teen. 

The movie, which stars Kate Hudson and Leslie Odom, Jr., follows a teenager (Maddie Ziegler) with autism who has a passion for music. Sia unveiled the first look at her upcoming musical-movie production about a young girl with autism. The singer faced backlash for casting actress Ziegler as a character with autism instead of an actor with autism and was condemned by disability advocates for what some have deemed an offensive portrayal of people with autism.

After the trailer was released, Twitter users called out the singer for excluding people with disabilities and autism and working with Autism Speaks, an organization that has been denounced by many autism advocates, Sia responded to Twitter’s criticism.

Sia’s began firing off defensive tweets at the critics, and things quickly became chaotic.

“It’s a mighty shame that someone with such a colossal platform is using it to exclude disabled and neurodiverse actors from their own narratives. I’ve been a long time fan of your work, so this is really disappointing,” read a typical reply to Sia’s announcement tweet.

The singer tried to explain Zeigler’s casting, tweeting that she first tried working with a young actress who was “non-verbal” and “on the spectrum,” but “she found it unpleasant and stressful.”

As Sia continued to go on the defensive, some, including actress Franchesca Ramsey, pointed out that the singer could benefit from listening to criticism from communities she’s portraying and pointed to Anne Hathaway and Lupita Nyong’o as examples.

Hathaway recently apologized to persons with disabilities after her character in The Witches reboot was met with backlash over its portrayal of people with physical disabilities.

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