Sia Slams Criticism Over Casting Maddie Ziegler as an Autistic Teen in Her New Film

Photo: Dee Cercone/Everett Collection.

After Sia faced backlash over Maddie Ziegler’s casting as an autistic teen in Music, she decided to hit back at her film’s critics with a series of expletive-laden tweets. Let’s just say it wasn’t a good look.

On Thursday, November 19, the 44-year-old singer shared a trailer for Music, her directorial debut about a young girl on the autism spectrum played by Maddie Ziegler. The former Dance Moms star (and Sia’s frequent muse) is non-disabled, however, which raised plenty of valid questions and concerns about who gets to play characters with disabilities in Hollywood. By Friday, people with disabilities began to question Sia’s decision to cast Ziegler in the role—and the “Chandelier” singer did not have a pleasant response: “Grrrrrrrrrr,” she tweeted. “Fuckity fuck why don’t you watch my film before you judge it? FURY.”

Earlier that day, when asked why she didn’t attempt to cast an actor with a disability in the role, Sia claimed it would have been “cruel” to do so. “Hi Sia, can I ask why you didn’t cast a disabled actor for this part?” tweeted Bronagh Waugh, an Irish actor. “It’s pretty offensive the way you’ve chosen to portray this character. People with disabilities are not broken and don’t need fixing.” Sia said she agreed, before adding, “I’ve never referred to music as disabled. Special abilities is what I’ve always said, 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.”

When pressed by another Twitter user on what she meant by “cruel, not kind,” Sia said she “tried working with a beautiful young girl non verbal on the spectrum and she found it unpleasant and stressful,” and so she cast Ziegler in the role instead. Still, users questioned whether Sia ever attempted to make her set more “pleasant” for actors auditioning for the role or if she consulted the autism community during the process. “Did you do any research or consult the community at all?” one Twitter user replied. “It’s very condescending to say it would be cruel to consult a disabled actor.”

“Duh,” Sia replied. “I spent three fucking years researching, I think that’s why I’m so fucking bummed.” The singer’s replies began to follow suit, getting harsher by the moment. When another Twitter user identified themselves as an autistic actor who would have gladly acted in the film, but felt that “zero effort was made to include anyone who is actually autistic,” Sia fired back with a tense missive. “Maybe you’re just a bad actor,” she wrote, later adding, “Fucking bullshit. You have no fucking idea because you weren’t there and haven’t seen the movie.”

The singer went on to claim that she had “two people on the spectrum” advising her on the film, but there remained another layer to Music‘s criticism. The forthcoming film is associated with Autism Speaks, a divisive organization among the autism community. A former member of the organization’s advisory board, John Robison, has spoken out about the group’s harmful characterization of autism in the past. “Throughout their history they have held points of view that are destructive to autistic people,” Robison, who was the board’s only autistic member, told Mother Jones. “For example, the organization has characterized autism as a debilitating condition that destroys families and prevents autistic people from living happy lives.” Over on Twitter, Sia claimed that the group “came on board long after the film was finished,” and that she had “no idea it was such a polarizing group.”

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