Sia has expressed regret over responding to criticism of her decision to cast a neurotypical actor as the non-verbal autistic lead in her upcoming new film, Music.
Many took to social media in November to voice their criticism following the release of the film’s first trailer, which shows Maddie Ziegler, who is not autistic, playing the role of a nonverbal autistic teenager named Music.
Sia responded to a number of comments on Twitter, saying she had consulted autistic people and allies on the film and that she had cast Ziegler only after trying to work with a “beautiful young girl non-verbal on the spectrum” who “found [the project] unpleasant and stressful.”
In response to one user, who identified themselves as an autistic actor among many who “could have acted in it on short notice”, Sia said, “Maybe you’re just a bad actor”.
In a new interview with the Sydney Morning Herald published December 19, the singer said she shouldn’t have engaged with the criticism. “Looking back, I should have just shut up; I know that now,” she said.
“It was three in the morning, and even though I have a rule that I don’t do anything emotional past midnight, I fucked up this time,” Sia said.
Sia also told the publication that “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.”
In November, Hannah Marshall, who is on the autistic spectrum, launched an online petition to cancel the premiere of Music – at the time of writing, it had over 7,000 signatures.
“As an autistic individual, I am asking that this film is canceled,” Marshall wrote in the petition’s description. “It is extremely offensive to myself and other autistic individuals. Sia has shown no remorse for her inaccurate and hurtful betrayal of the community.”
Elsewhere in the Sydney Morning Herald interview, Sia said she was “profoundly affected” by the criticism of Music because of her protectiveness of Ziegler.
“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],” Sia said. “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.”
Sia also said the film was inspired by a 16-year-old named Stevie that she met at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
“Stevie used to sit next to me in the front row at my AA meetings. He was low-functioning and on the spectrum with echolalia; he’s the reason I wanted to make this movie,” she said.
Music is slated for a theatrical release in January and February 2021.
Sia also recently revealed that the character Kate Hudson plays in Music was originally supposed to be played by Shia LaBeouf. The singer had also recently called LaBeouf a “pathological liar” who “conned” her into an adulterous relationship, and expressed her support for FKA Twigs, who has filed a lawsuit against LaBeouf over allegations of sexual battery, assault and infliction of emotional distress.
LaBeouf has not responded to Sia’s claims at time of writing.