“Music” by Sia: more harmful than helpful

by Kate Grutz, Associate Editor

Orange and white lights strobe over the opening scene. The music playing in the background is overwhelming and loud. This is the first thing viewers are met with when watching the new movie “Music”, created and directed by popular music artist, Sia. 

The movie missed it’s intended goal and upset many people with it’s portrayal of an autistic character. The movie was poorly executed and it was obvious that the time, effort and research necessary to make the movie a succes was not put in. 

To most people, the bright colors and loud sounds that are shown in the opening scene are not upsetting or overstimulating. But to an autistic person, the scene could be extremely overwhelming. The movie was made in poor taste and is extremely harmful to the autistic community. Additionally, the autistic character being portrayed is jerking and convulsing to the beat of the music in a strange and uncomfortable way, as if she’s an over-the-top and disgusting caricature of what an autistic person moves like. 

The character shown is named Music, an autistic teenager and the main character of the film, played by non-autistic dancer Maddie Ziegler. When clips from the movie first began to surface so did some outrage from the autistic community and their supporters. The critics of the movie didn’t like the over-the-top movements from Ziegler that looked to be a mockery of autistic people. Spoiler alert, it absolutely was a mockery.

The movie was borderline unwatchable and made me very uncomfortable throughout. The autistic character portrayed was played by a non-autistic actor and it felt as if autistc people were the butt of a joke. The supporting and main characters were not likable and often treated the autistic character like an object.The musical numbers scattered throughout the movie made very little sense to the actual plot and lacked a deeper meaning. On top of this, the random musical numbers were mostly loud and brightly colored which may have made it difficult for some viewers to watch.

 It was impossible for many autistic people to watch the film due to the overstimulating colors and sounds that were present in between most scenes. It seemed that Sia was trying to represent the autistic community but wildly missed the mark.

But having a non-autistic actor play an autistic character is nothing new. We see this in the Netflix show “Atypical” and the film “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”, but why was there no outrage towards the autistic portrayal in these pieces?

The answer is pretty simple, in my opinion “Atypical” and “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” were able to portray autistic characters in a way that humanized them. In “Music” by Sia, the autistic character seemed more like a strange alien than a true person and most of the supporting characters treated her as such. 

While the autistic character in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”, Arnie, was similar to Music in a lot of ways, their characters diverged in some of the most crucial ways. Arnie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, acted much younger than his true age and often got himself into trouble, but he was still treated like a person by the other characters. 

Music was tackled twice during the movie as a method of restraint and was treated more like an object than a person. This method of restraint is extremely harmful to the autistic community. 

The neighbor character, Ebo, pins Music to the ground roughly and says that he is crushing her with his love. He does this to calm her down but it honestly makes it look like it’s okay for someone to pin down an autistic person having an episode.

Someone who watches this movie and sees an autstic character get tackled and manhandled may think that that it the proper way to calm down an autistic person. In reality, tackling someone to the ground and holding them there is unsafe and can be traumatizing to the individual. It’s important to treat autistic people with empathy and love, the tackling in the movie seems to be an attempt to normalize pinning an autistic person to the ground as a means of calming them down which is super harmful and dangerous.

Overall, Sia’s movie “Music” was done in poor taste and does more harm than good for the autistic community. When the film should’ve taught acceptance and understanding it taught alienation. Where it should have celebrated autism, it treated it like a magical disease with no cure. And where it should have catered to an autistic audience, it isolated autistic people who were unable to view it due to the flashing colors, lights and sounds.