Late to the Party: Sia and Her Movie "Music"

Ashlyn E. Inman

Welcome to Late to the Party, a column where we discuss semi-old news. Why? Because you arrived late to the party and now you're too embarrassed to ask your friends what you missed. More importantly, you need a one-stop-shop for all the info so you can quickly learn enough to talk about it as if you were there the whole time.

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Sia and Her Movie: Music

Who Is She?

Sia is a singer popular for pop hits such as “Chandelier,” “Elastic Heart,” and “Cheap Thrills.” 

What’s the Movie About?

Zu (Kate Hudson), a newly sober drug dealer, gets custody of her half-sister, Music (Maddie Ziegler). Music is on the autism spectrum. The film marks Sia’s directorial debut and features musical sequences to show what’s going on inside Music’s head. It’s been nominated for two Golden Globe awards and can be watched on multiple streaming platforms.

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What’s the Controversy?

Sia and Maddie Ziegler

Well, in short, Sia cast a neuro-normative girl to play an autistic girl. In November 2020 when the trailer for the movie first came out, many fans posted on social media asking why a special needs actress wasn’t cast in the role. Sia responded in a tweet explaining her choice because the character is nonverbal and “casting someone at her level of functioning was cruel, not kind, so I made the executive decision that we would do our best to lovingly represent the community.”

Sia continued to defend her casting by saying she "tried working with a beautiful young girl non-verbal on the spectrum and she found it unpleasant and stressful," and after that cast Ziegler in the role. Her Tweets that evening continued to spiral out of control as she began cursing in her responses to followers, asking them to wait to watch the movie before passing judgment. 

Later in January 2021, while on an Australian talk show called “The Sunday Project” Sia stated that her casting of Ziegler wasn’t ableism but was nepotism instead. She continued, “I mean, it is ableism I guess as well, but it's actually nepotism because I can't do a project without her. I don't want to. I wouldn't make art if it didn't include her." 

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Sia has been working with Ziegler since Ziegler starred in Sia’s music video for “Chandelier.” Ziegler was only 11 at the time. Sia has stated that she feels a maternal love for Ziegler and has since been named her Godmother. After “Chandelier,” Ziegler would have weekly sleepovers at Sia’s place and has spent a good portion of the COVID lockdown at Sia’s home. In an interview with Stuff, Ziegler’s biological mother Melissa Gisoni said that when Maddie was 12 she slept in Sia’s bed with her on multiple occasions. Gisoni was quoted to say “They’re like sisters, I love how they snuggle together.”

While the sentiment is sweet, the 27-year age gap between Sia and Ziegler led many people to call the relationship strange and inappropriate. Some on social media have gone as far as to say that it seems like Sia is grooming Ziegler. 

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The Movie

The movie was finally released on February 12, 2021, to less-than-favorable reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, it has an average of 1.3 out of 5 stars on audience reviews--which is less than the average of the Cats movie. 

The New York Times called it “A Woefully Misguided View of Disability.” Reviewer Theo Bugbee went on to say that the “cringe-worthy drama “Music” introduces its central character in a song and dance sequence so gasp-inducingly crass, the scene almost demands that the movie be shown in theaters. At least then, audiences would be able to exercise the right to walk out.” He claimed that the film bordered on mockery at many moments. 

Time Magazine says it all in the title of their review: “Sia's Golden Globe-Nominated ‘Music’ Isn’t Just Offensive. It’s Also Bad Art—and the Distinction Matters.” Reviewer Sarah Kurchak referenced Sia’s statement that she created the film “as a love letter to caregivers and to the autism community” and criticized Sia for not collaborating with the community in a more meaningful way. Kurchak reports that there is a scene in which Ziegler’s character is subjected to prone restraints, a technique that is sometimes used on autistic individuals and has led to death in certain instances. Sia had claimed to remove the scene or add a warning, but neither happened before the film’s release. 

Rolling Stone was nice enough to say that the musical numbers were good as standalone pieces. But reviewer David Fear immediately countered that by saying “it’s a perma-cringe–inducing mark against its creators, a simplistic Holy Fool fable on anabolic steroids and a Skittles sugar high.”

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What are your thoughts on the movie? Let me know in the comments below!

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I grew up in a small town in rural California, and earned my B.F.A. at Coastal Carolina University in Myrtle Beach, SC. After graduating, I moved to NYC where I lived for three years before relocating to Nashville. And that brings us to date! I've worked a variety of jobs from being on a farm to being on a stage to being in a cubicle. In short, I've lived the big city life, the small town life, the southern life, the northern life, and you get the idea. I'll be writing about entertainment and lifestyle topics for the most part because I have a background in theater, live in Music City, and also work for a fitness company! (Check out @WeightingForWarriors on Instagram!) ​ When I'm not writing you can probably find me reading, baking, crafting something, or screaming at a football game on TV.

Nashville, TN
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