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Sia faces backlash amid controversial casting choice for upcoming film

Pop-icon and Aussie singer-songwriter Sia is facing backlash after her decision to cast long-time collaborator Maddie Ziegler in the role of a teen with autism.

Australian pop star Sia recently announced her debut film Music, an original musical directed, co-written, and produced by Sia, focusing on an autistic teenage girl, Music, who is reluctantly placed in the care of her recently sober half-sister (played by Kate Hudson).

Yet Sia is now facing backlash for her decision to cast 18-year-old Ziegler in the lead role – rather than a neurodivergent actor – well as backlash over her response to the initial backlash… kinda confusing isn’t it?

Sia and Maddie Ziegler
Photo: Jeff Vespa via MTV News

While the film’s colourful musical sequences are supposed to represent the way Music, as a neurodivergent person, sees the world, Sia made the tone-deaf decision to cast the neurotypical Maddie Ziegler in the role.

Ziegler has acted as the physical face for Sia’s music since the 2014 smash-hit Chandelier rocketed the Aussie pop-star into A-list notoriety.

When Twitter started to raise its eyebrows, the 44-year-old musician tried to explain her reasons for casting Ziegler, rather than someone who is on the autism spectrum.

“I actually tried working with [a] beautiful young girl non verbal on the spectrum and she found it unpleasant and stressful. So that’s why I cast Maddie,” she tweeted.

However, this explanation only fanned the flames for the inevitable callout.

“[Could] u not have gone with …. another autistic actor? instead of casting one, going ‘this is too hard i can’t accommodate this person’ and going straight to a neurotypical actor instead?” one Twitter user responded.

While neurodiverse people have increasingly appeared more prominently in mainstream media, many roles are still given to neurotypical actors and writers, ultimately eliminating chances for people from diverse backgrounds to gain a foothold within the entertainment industry.

Not only is Music supposed to be a non-verbal autistic character, but mainstream television and cinema have been recently embroiled in the scandal after scandal due to representations of characters and the actors who get to play them. Remember The Danish Girl, where Eddie Redmayne, a cis man, played a trans woman? That definitely didn’t age well.

But, when thousands of Twitter users pointed out the need to cast actors who reflect the marginalised statuses of their characters, Sia’s constitution began to crumble.

When one Twitter user, an autistic actor @HelenAngel, claimed that Sia was simply making excuses for a “lack of effort” over inclusion, Sia changed her tune quickly.

“Maybe you’re just a bad actor,” Sia replied.

Things escalated quickly after that.

Sia also faced criticism over the choice of an advisory group involved in the film, Autism Speaks, who do not feature autistic people in leadership positions and are known as a polarising group within the neurodivergent community.

In defence, Sia says they only came onto the project recently, and she did not realise they were indeed such a “polarising” group.

However, despite the reasonable backlash, with many advising Sia to do better research and employ a more diverse cast, she refused to back down.

I hired plenty of special abilities kids. I’m willing to be misunderstood because I think this movie does more good than harm,” she said in response to another Twitter user.

Unfortunately, it seems Sia isn’t backing down… let’s hope to god this film is as good as she says it’s going to be.