Sia’s ‘ableist’ autism film Music accused of putting Maddie Ziegler in Blackface

sia music autism maddie zeigler

Sia and is in hot water for her controversial movie Music, which has been accused of Blackface and ableism over Maddie Ziegler’s character.

Music has been surrounded by controversy ever since its first trailer dropped.

Maddie Ziegler, a regular contributor and Sia’s “muse”, plays the film’s eponymous character, who is autistic. Ziegler is neurotypical, with her casting prompting heavy criticism and repeated defences from Sia. She called complaints  “fucking bulls**t”, saying her “heart has always been in the right place”.

After the film received its US on-demand release, Music is once more being criticised, with one scene being singled out for appearing to show Ziegler in Blackface.

In the movie, Ziegler can be seen performing the song “Oh Body” in cornrows and with her face made darker.

One person wrote about how she had to scroll through replies to even “realise this was Maddie Ziegler”. She continued: “She is literally in Blackface while portraying just the most violently offensive caricature of autistic people. What’s going on here?”

“Caricature of autistic body language” that is “unsettling and insincere”.

In an impassioned thread on Twitter, the Autisticats wrote a detailed and chronological review “so that nobody else watches it [Music] out of curiosity”.

Ziegler’s character Music is largely non-verbal and escapes into her imagination, which results in bright and stylised dance numbers.

The Autisticats wrote that her performance is a “caricature of autistic body language”, adding: “It’s unsettling and insincere.”

“And it is deeply reminiscent of the exaggerated mannerisms non-autistic people often employ when bullying autistic and developmentally disabled people for the ways we move,” they continued.

“The fact that Ziegler is not autistic, and the fact that her performance is so heavily exaggerated turns the entire movie into one long display of mockery.

“I know that ‘wasn’t Sia’s intention’.

“But it doesn’t make things any easier to stomach.”

The movie also shows  Ziegler’s character being held in a prone restraint during a meltdown, an extremely dangerous practice.

Sia previously addressed the controversy surrounding Music, after the film earned two Golden Globes nominations.

In a succession of Tweets, the singer said she had “been listening” to the criticism surrounding the film. She said, as a result, that a warning would appear at the beginning of the film, specifically to warn about scenes depicting physical restraint.

However, the Austicats pointed out that there was no warning about the dangers of physical restraints in the version they had seen.

“I knew that people were going to love Music or hate it”

In an interview with The Independent, Ziegler said she knew playing a girl with autism was a controversial decision, but she felt she was up to the task. She shared how she was 14 when she filmed Music.

“I felt so much responsibility,” Ziegler said. “But I felt I was capable. I knew going into this that people were going to love or hate it.”

She said, despite knowing the film and her role were extremely controversial, she felt she had to take on the role because she loved the character so much. The dancer said she researched for the part by watching Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance as a teen with autism in 1993’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. DiCaprio is neurotypical.

Ziegler also said she watched YouTube videos of autistic people. She said: “I’d get in my head at times: ‘I’m going to try and replicate those mannerisms and those tics.’

“But then I started watching each video, and I realised every single person is so special in their own way. That’s how Sia and I came up with Music, her mannerisms and her own thing going on.”

PinkNews has contacted representatives of Sia and Maddie Ziegler for comment.