Maybe She’s Born With It, Maybe It’s Nepotism (and Ableism, Sia, It’s Still Ableism)
Can the hole Sia's dug for herself go any deeper?
A little over a month ago, I wrote about how awful Sia’s response was to the extremely valid criticism of the upcoming film she’s directing, Music, and its autistic protagonist being played by Maddie Ziegler, who is not autistic. It was your classic case of “person who isn’t part of the community they’re attempting to represent inserts their foot into their mouth every step of the way,” though admittedly, Sia’s responses were real … um … childish.
Grrrrrrrrrr. Fuckity fuck why don’t you watch my film before you judge it? FURY.
— sia (@Sia) November 20, 2020
I don’t know. I just think that if you’re creating something that involves a community you aren’t a part of (in this case, the autistic community), maybe, just maybe, you should listen to them?
However, in a recent interview she did for the Australian talk show The Project, Sia’s come out to say what she’s realized about her movie upon reflection on that criticism, and it’s … somehow astronomically worse than I thought it could be.
Before we get into that, I should point out that this isn’t the first time she’s responded to the criticism she’s received (besides the all caps FURY on her Twitter). Back in December, Sia opened up about the whole thing via The Sydney Morning Herald. In the piece by Jane Rocca, Sia had this to say:
Looking back, I should have just shut up; I know that now. It was three in the morning, and even though I have a rule that I don’t do anything emotional past midnight, I f—ed up this time.
Ok cool, she admits that she messed up. Now she can apologize and—
What I do know is that people functioning at Music’s level can’t get on Twitter and tell me I did a good job either. There’s a saying in AA that you’re better to understand, than be understood. Sadly I forgot about that when I got on Twitter. I really just wanted to explain that I had tried all these different options and done my best.
So the reason you weren’t receiving praise from the autistic community is because the folks at Music’s level … can’t get on Twitter to give you kudos …?
Um … that’s certainly a … take … but it’s not too late to shut up right now—
Maddie is the reason the Twitter comments profoundly affected me. She had researched her role for two years, we watched movies together, and I taught her the nuances and ticks I had observed from [a] friend [with autism]. We did this in the most sensitive and respectful way. She was worried people would make fun of her. I promised her I wouldn’t let that happen.
Oh Jesus Christ.
And yes, believe it or not, this latest interview manages to take her Twitter comments and this December interview and make a colossal mess out of the whole thing because Sia can’t take her own advice and shut up.
Sia’s comments about the criticism she’s faced start at the 3 and a half minute mark, but if you don’t feel like hearing them coupled with footage from the movie, here they are:
I realized it wasn’t ableism. I mean, it is ableism, I guess, as well — but it’s actually nepotism, because I can’t do a project without her. I don’t want to. I wouldn’t make art if it didn’t include her.
So it isn’t ableism—no never mind, it is ableism, but also … nepotism.
And the interview goes on to say just how deep that nepotism runs.
It turns out, according to Sia herself, Maddie was so worried about playing an autistic character (since she isn’t autistic) that she cried about it because she was worried that the community would think she was making fun of them. This is in contrast to what Sia said back in December about Maddie being worried that people would make fun of her. Nope, it turns out Maddie knew right from the start that this would not go over well.
Sia’s response? “I bold-facedly said, ‘I won’t let that happen.’ Last week I realized I couldn’t really protect her from that, which I thought I could.”
I … guess it’s fine because, according to Sia, they sent the film to The Child Mind Institute and Maddie scored 100% on accuracy. Oh, and she’s now calling herself Maddie’s Bonus Mom.
I am being so sarcastic right now. Nothing about this is fine and I haven’t agreed with a dislike bar on a video so much in a long while because wow Sia, WOW!
First of all, I’m gonna need white folks to stop putting kids in uncomfortable situations for no reason other than “cuz I feel like it.” Between Bean Dad and this latest Sia news, it has not been a good week in regards to how children have been treated. Sia’s reliance on creating with Maddie is unsettling when she, apparently, relies on her so much that she convinced her to take on a role that she was very concerned about. You sat there and watched this girl cry and your response was I’ll protect you??? You didn’t even stop to think that, maybe, Maddie had a point in not wanting to portray an autistic person?
Honestly, I’m struggling to see why the lead has to be autistic at all. Why not just make a musical with Maddie that she feels good about instead of convincing her to take on this role?
I’m so confused. The character is based completely on my neuro atypical friend. He found it too stressful being non verbal, and I made this movie with nothing but love for him and his mother.
— sia (@Sia) November 20, 2020
Oh okay, it’s based on a friend. So Sia decided the best way to go about telling the story was to convince someone who questioned her to the point of tears that it’d be totes fine to play the part because I can’t create without them. This is the complete opposite of the reason she gave when asked before.
I agree. I’ve never referred to music as disabled. Special abilities is what I’ve always said, and casting someone at her level of functioning was cruel, not kind, so I made the executive decision that we would do our best to lovingly represent the community.
— sia (@Sia) November 20, 2020
At least she’s being honest now and saying that she cast Maddie because she wanted to? And honest about the ableism, too? She guesses???
Ironically, many people already assumed the actual reasoning behind Sia’s casting and have been directing their frustrations at Sia herself, not Maddie, so this whole “I’m gonna protect you” narrative is unnecessary and, frankly, completely dismissive of how we’re being told Maddie actually felt about the whole thing. If you’re really gonna play this Bonus Mom card then you need to be someone who actually listens instead of pushing a child into doing what you want them to do.
That’s manipulative, not nurturing.
So now Music has gone from being problematic because of ableism to being problematic because of ableism AND because of how manipulative the casting decision feels. You can either look at it as Sia making a movie with Maddie and unnecessarily adding her fantasy land version of autism that no one asked for, or Sia making her fantasy land version of autism that no one asked for and dragging Maddie into the mess because I wouldn’t make art if it didn’t include her.
Neither are good looks, but that’s what we’re left with.
(Image: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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