'No way': Sia doubles down on autistic character casting in Music

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Sia continues to defend her decision to cast Dance Moms star Maddie Ziegler as an autistic teen in her feature film Music, despite copping a large amount of backlash over it.

During an interview with 10 News First about the project, the Aussie singer was asked about the criticism she faced from the autism and wider communities for choosing not to cast someone who actually has autism to play the low-functioning autistic teenager in the film.

Dancer Maddie Ziegler (L) and singer/songwriter Sia
Sia with Maddie Ziegler at the 2015 Grammys. Photo: Getty

In the film, the character Music(played by Maddie Ziegler), who is an autistic teenager, finds herself in the care of her half-sister, Zu (played by Kate Hudson), a newly sober drug dealer.

“There is no way I could have used someone of [Music's] level of functioning to play her,” Sia told Angela Bishop on Wednesday evening.

“I also needed a dancer, for [the character’s] imaginary life,” Sia added, referring to various dream sequences.

“It’s not a documentary. Kate isn’t a drug dealer and Leslie Odom Jr. [who plays Ebo] isn’t from Ghana.”

sia interview Channel 10
Sia continues to defend her decision. Photo: Channel 10

When the Chandelier singer first shared the trailer for the film, out in 2021, she was accused of ableism for putting Maddie, a neurotypical actor, in the role of an autistic person.

Sia then faced further criticism when she defended her choice online.

For instance, she said “casting someone at [Music’s] level of functioning was cruel, not kind,” a sentiment that was slammed by autism advocacy groups.

Sia also said she had “actually tried working with a a beautiful young girl non verbal on the spectrum” initially, and “she found it unpleasant and stressful. So that’s why I cast Maddie.”

And that 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.”

During the exchanges, Sia said she spent three years researching the film and cast “thirteen neuro atypical people, three trans folk, and not as f**king prostitutes or drug addicts but as doctors, nurses and singers. F**king sad nobody’s even seen the dang movie. My heart has always been in the right place.”

Unfortunately, the whole debacle ended up getting pretty nasty on Twitter, including this exchange the singer had with an actor who is autistic.

Photo: Twitter
Photo: Twitter

A mum to three boys with autism, Kathrine Peereboom recently told Yahoo Lifestyle that adults and children with autism are often excluded.

Katherine said despite the high rate of autism, community understanding about the condition or how to interact with people on the spectrum needs greater awareness.

“Sadly, a lot of children and adults with autism feel isolated and are excluded from social activities at school and at work because people don’t understand how to engage with them,” the Aussie mum told us.

“As a result, those individuals suffer because they are excluded.”

Katherine hopes people will learn to be more considerate and inclusive.

“Small considerations can make a huge difference so please listen to the requests given to you by the individual themselves or the parents and care givers,” she explained.

With extra reporting by Suzy Byrne.

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