I used to love Sia. Her music is usually featured on my playlists and when I heard that she was making a movie musical, I was actually excited to see what it was going to be like. Wow, was I in for a surprise. ‘Music’, expected to be released in 2021 stars Kate Hudson, Leslie Odom Jr. and, crucially, Maddie Ziegler. Why is that crucial? Because Ziegler, well known for her impeccable dance abilities, has been cast to play a disabled, neurodivergent girl. The character that Ziegler plays, ‘Music’ is described as being a ‘special needs girl’ in some reviews, whilst others describe her as being ‘on the autism spectrum’. It’s fairly clear that Ziegler does not fit into any of these categories. Instead, she acts as she feels a disabled person would which is also termed ‘Cripping Up’. An article about Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything, where he too ‘Crips Up’ features the tagline, ‘We wouldn’t accept actors blacking up, so why applaud cropping up?’. It goes on to state, ‘the ability to play “disability” is a definite asset for an actor, a source of genuine acclaim’, which we as a public witness, time and time again, as awards are handed out to able bodied and neurotypical actors for being able to portray our lives and our stories better than we ever are allowed to. It is somehow seen as acceptable for actors to mimic our bodies, words, voices and experiences, making a mockery out of the struggle of the every day experience for those for whom the world is not designed. At the end of the wrap of the film, these actors get to go back to their normality, after feeling a sense of goodness about how they have served the disabled community, bringing their ‘struggles’ to the big screen. I’m sure the cash influx of their bank accounts helps with that great feeling too.
Let’s return to Sia. I genuinely struggled to watch the trailer all the way through. You start off with a close up of Kate Hudson, reading a letter from their deceased parents – “That magical little girl. All she’s got now is you,” read out, whilst Hudson rubs her head in disbelief of the burden of caregiving. Breaking it down, we have the infantilisation of the disabled, as Ziegler clearly isn’t playing a child and the generally held societal belief that those with disabilities are a huge lead weight around the ankles of those who are enslaved into our care (not true by the way!). We then get to witness Ziegler Cripping Up, which seems to involve keeping her mouth open, pushing her teeth out and waving her arms around, using an iPad to communicate. Through the power of music, the character Music is able to overcome the terrible life she has been given and can dance in a bright yellow rubber catsuit with Hudson, whilst wearing what appears to be a large adult diaper and some sort of disability safety helmet. Don’t worry though, Ziegler maintains her Cripping Up, making sure that she keeps her mouth open and poses her hands into a very disabled looking position, whatever that means. It was the hardest 60 seconds of my life, and that’s coming from someone who has to take opioid painkillers. I’m not kidding.
I have so many questions. Firstly, has Sia ever met a disabled person? Has Ziegler? Did they both see one yawn once and this is why they have decided that we can’t close our mouths, whatever our disabilities? Why did anyone think this was acceptable? Are any of them ashamed of themselves? I think I have the answer to the last one. It’s going to be a ‘no’, because, as we all know, the disabled community requires the able bodied, neurotypical actor, singer and writer to convey our experiences due to the feeble nature of our disabled minds.
When the comments began flooding in, Sia had so much to say. Majorly in the defence of her film. Reviewing some tweets, we have Sia claiming that it would have been ‘cruel’ to have cast an actress with Autism to play Music, even though there are so many actors and actresses on the spectrum who would have been incredible for the role.
We also have her tirade against the disabled actors who tweeted her saying that they would have been available for the role and have the skills that would have been necessary. She responded with ‘Maybe you’re just a bad actor’.
She also has tweeted saying that she used the organisation Autism Speaks in her research for the film. Now, while this may sound like something positive in an otherwise negative sea of action, I hate to break it to you, folks, but it’s not. Autism Speaks are a large organisation that every Autistic blogger, influencer and celebrity that I have read have denounced. Why? Because they fund efforts to ‘cure’ and eradicate autism by funding research into tests like the prenatal test for Downs that would allow mothers to abort their child if they were suspected of having autism. Whilst claiming to speak for and represent those on the spectrum, they are also sending the message that they should never have been born and that their lives aren’t worth living. They also don’t have any employees in leadership positions or management that have a disability or are on the spectrum. You can read more about the issues with Autism Speaks here from the fabulous Autistic Mama.
So, in summary: Sia has created an astoundingly ableist film. I wouldn’t be surprised if Music is ‘cured’ from her curse of ‘special abilities’ via music by the end of the film. Any input she has had was also inherently ableist. She is not open to the viewpoints of those she is claiming to represent. Ziegler, Hudson and Odom Jr. should be ashamed of themselves for the parts they have played to make this atrocity happen. Cripping up has to stop. There are a wealth of actors with neurodivergence and disabilities that are more than capable of delivering astounding performances on the big screen, television and in theatre. We need to see an end to cripping up for artistic integrity, but also because these are not your stories to tell.
You can help by: not watching or supporting this film. Adding your voice to the many that are trying to stop the release of this film. Recognise ableism in your day to day lives. Check what you are watching/engaging with – does the person/s have a right to be acting or writing this way? Is this an appropriation of someone else’s life? Engage your friends and family in education about why this film is problematic. Find some authentic disabled voices to listen to instead. Follow Paige Layle on TikTok for example to learn more about women with Aspergers. Follow @fidgets.and.fries on Instagram, a mother of two boys with ASD. We can absolutely do better than Sia’s mess, coming to you in 2021. You can watch the full trailer here, if you can stomach it.
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