Sia’s film Music sparks controversy about treatment of autism on screen

by | Feb 12, 2021 | A&E, Headlines

This year’s Golden Globes nominations swirled in controversy almost immediately after they were announced.

Diversity was once again a point of concern with a near-total absence of Black women. But those slights overshadow another controversy centred around the Golden Globe-nominated film Music and its portrayal of an autistic, non-verbal teen.

The film, which was nominated for two Golden Globes including Best Picture in a Comedy or Musical and Best Actress for Kate Hudson, drew heavy criticism for including two restraint scenes, where the autistic character Music is forced into a prone position on the ground, as well as casting a neurotypical actress to portray an autistic character.

Anne Borden King, the co-founder of Autistics for Autistics Ontario, an autistic-lead advocacy group, said it’s scary and dangerous that a potentially fatal maneuver involving restraining the title character was demonstrated in the film.

“The fact that the scene was ever in the film kind of shows that the filmmaker was ignorant about the dangers of restraint and indicates that she’s ignorant about other realities,” Borden King said.

“The most important thing to do would be to consult with an autistic-lead group about the representation to make sure they don’t get things wrong and that nothing dangerous is in the film and also that it’s a realistic representation because when we have unrealistic representations, this can cause harm and pain for people who are autistic and that’s what’s happened with this film,” she said.

The act of casting someone outside of their real-life experience is not new to Hollywood. Straight actors are often cast in LGBTQ+ roles or characters of marginalized backgrounds are white-washed. The same unfortunately applies to autistic characters and a lack of care is shown all around.

That lack of care has extended to the final product. The poor reviews the film has been collecting is separate entirely from the issue of misrepresentation.

Charles Bramesco, in his review for the website Little White Lies, took the misrepresentation to task.

“Sia’s poor direction enmeshes with and amplifies her rank insensitivity, chiefly in her fusion of her videos’ performance style with the subject matter. Kate Hudson plays a sobered-up drug addict getting by as a small-time pusher, completely devoid of the grit required to sell that profile,” he wrote. “Their neighbour Ebo (Leslie Odom Jr) is a broadly African immigrant, a stereotype of model-minority helpfulness even as he relates his own sob story.”

Bramesco suggests Sia misses the mark on attempting to present herself as one who can advocate for individuals with autism.

“At one point, she makes a cameo as herself, detailing a clueless, tone-deaf outreach effort she’s leading in a needy country,” Bramesco said.

Sia tweeted and apologized for the insensitivity after her work was nominated for the awards. Not long after, she deleted her Twitter account.

“I’m sorry. I plan to remove the restraint scenes from all future printings. I listened to the wrong people and that is my responsibility, my research was clearly not thorough enough, not wide enough,” Sia said.

Sia concluded her Twitter apology by reaffirming that Music did not condone the use of restraints on autistic people.

“There are autistic occupational therapists that specialize in sensory processing who can be consulted to explain safe ways to provide proprioceptive, deep-pressure feedback to help with meltdown safety,” she said.

The 2021 Golden Globes will be held on Feb. 28.