Sia’s new film Music underscores importance of quality representation


Fair Use: Music Official Trailer

While Music had the potential to provide an authentic view of autism, it relies on stereotypes and performances by neurotypical actors instead of accurately representing neurodivergence.

In conversations about equality, one often hears the term “representation” thrown around a lot.

“Representation” is the belief of many activists that marginalized identities and parts of an individual’s sense of self should be shown as acceptable to help stop discrimination. The practice of normalizing inclusivity is incredibly important in films and on television so society, in general, can learn that it’s okay to be different. And, for the most part, Hollywood is getting better at this. It’s no longer quite as difficult to find a disabled character or an LGBTQ character or a character of color in a movie or on TV. But there’s still a significant caveat that is making representation much more difficult- the characters need to be good. Studios and directors keep falling into stereotypes of identities, disabilities, and lifestyles, and this is incredibly harmful to how people view others who share these traits.

Sia created a film meant to portray the good side of autism but instead encouraged her actors to embody inaccurate stereotypes.”

Take, for example, the film Music by the pop musician Sia. Currently in theaters, Music is a movie about a nonverbal autistic girl named Music, portrayed by the neurotypical actress Maddie Ziegler. The film largely focuses on showing the audience how Music sees the world, showing how her brain turns normal interactions into fantastical and bright-colored dance numbers. Autism is heavily stereotyped in society, so accurate representation is crucial. However, Sia and Ziegler fail to show a representation of autism that isn’t reliant on the very stereotypes representation should combat, and Ziegler does not have autism herself. She is playing off the little she knows of autism (Ziegler said herself that the research she did for her role was watching meltdowns of autistic children that have been uploaded online) and acting like “the other.”

Sia created a film meant to portray the good side of autism but instead encouraged her actors to embody inaccurate stereotypes.

Sia has not responded well to criticisms of  Music. When the trailer released in late January, many people on social media pointed out that casting a neurotypical actor in a neurodivergent role is harmful as it excludes disabled people and neurodivergent people from narratives representing them. Plenty of autistic actors pointed out online that they would have been happy to partake in a film about autism, but Sia notoriously responded to one of them “Maybe you’re just a bad actor.”

The plethora of mistakes made by Sia and others involved in Music in the creation and promotion of the film exemplify the ongoing problems with representation on TV. From the neurotypical actress portraying a stereotypical neurodivergent role to the ongoing inability to accept criticism from autistic people, Music is truly a film that shows age-old issues with Hollywood and will only go on to cause further harm. Representation has to be accurate, inclusive, and well-researched; otherwise, it only serves to stigmatize and marginalize already stereotyped and marginalized communities.

Bottom Line: Films that stereotype instead of representing shouldn’t be rewarded with viewership or Golden Globe nominations.