Autism misrepresented

The movie poster for Sias film entitled Music.

The promotional movie poster for Sia’s film Music.

For decades, the autistic community has been misunderstood and silenced by a society who refuses to listen to their stories and hear their voices. This is fueled by a lack of education and awareness on autism spectrum disorder, and is encouraged through misrepresentation, or no representation, in entertainment. 

Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can affect social interactions, communication, and cause certain behavioral patterns that fall into a wide spectrum.  Recently, the stories of autistic individuals have started to make their way into entertainment. However, some of them are actually harming the autistic community instead of helping them.

Internationally famous singer-songwriter Sia recently dabbled in the art of directing, and the results were not as some had hoped. Her new movie Music, which tells the story of a nonverbal autistic woman helping her sister through a tough time, has received major backlash from the autistic community for its misrepresentation of an autistic individual.

The most noticeable mistake with this movie is that Sia casted Maddie Ziegler, a neurotypical actor and former Dance Moms star, in the role of Music, the young nonverbal woman. Casting a neurotypical person in the role of a neurodivergent person can be highly offensive and blatantly misrepresent the autistic community. 

Members of the autistic community have actively voiced their opinions on Sia’s ignorance, wishing she would have casted someone who is actually autistic to more accurately portray this role. An autistic woman would be able to play this character authentically and would encourage neurodiversity in the acting industry. There are many talented autistic actors out there, and Sia’s excuse that the “environment” wasn’t right for the originally casted autistic woman could have been easily fixed. This would have been worth it if it meant a more accurate portrayal of this story and made the actor more comfortable.

In preparation for this movie, Sia claimed to have worked and conducted her research with the group Autism Speaks. This would have been the correct action to take. However Autism Speaks, a non-profit organization dedicated to advocating for autistic people and their families, has been known to do the opposite of its mission. It contributes to the hostility towards the autistic community by spreading false information and misrepresenting what autism actually is. Using this as a source makes Sia’s movie an inaccurate portrayal of an autistic individual, and increases the aforementioned hostility. 

In order to show support for the autistic community, I would encourage people to refrain from watching this movie, as more views will increase Sia’s profit and therefore indirectly encourage this type of irresponsible behavior. Other than that, the best thing that you can do is listen and learn. It is more dangerous than people realize for a movie like this to reach the public because it seems it will be spreading misinformation, which actually puts autistic individuals in danger. 

The lesson from this is one of great importance as it shines a light on our lack of knowledge and education on autism, and while this movie might have been a wonderful way to raise awareness and spread useful information, it seems that it might do the exact opposite.