Sia has furiously bitten back at critics upset with her casting of Dance Moms star Maddie Zeigler as an autistic character in her new movie, suggesting an autistic actor who tweeted that they were available for a role was “just a bad actor”.
The ‘Chandelier’ singer has been embroiled in a social media firestorm since she dropped the trailer for her movie Music, which tells the story of a non-verbal teenager with autism who communicates through a tablet.
The autism community has been outraged by the casting choice for the lead role, considering Zeigler is not herself on the autism spectrum. Sia has maintained that she researched and worked closely with consultants who were on the spectrum while making the movie, and that it was “more compassionate” to use Zeigler in the film; but critics remain unsatisfied with what they see as “excuses”.
“F**k every person involved straight to hell,” one angry Twitter user wrote.
“Autistic adults are not listless children, just because we have tics or consume music differently than you, we are not your playthings.”
“This is totally unacceptable and there are no excuses,” said another. “You should know better than to allow able bodied and neurotypical to represent the disabled community.
“It’s incredibly offensive as is the infantalisation of the character. Sickened. And not even captioned. Don’t release this.”
In response, Sia said that she believed the movie was “beautiful”.
“[It] will create more good than harm and if I’m wrong I’ll pay for it for the rest of my life,” Sia replied.
Not all of the 44-year-old pop star’s responses were quite so measured, however.
Replying to an autistic actor that suggested that they and many other performers who were on the spectrum would have been available to act in the film on short notice, Sia responded: “Maybe you’re just a bad actor”.
“F**king bullshit,” she added in a second reply to the same tweet, which asserted there was “zero effort was made to include anyone who is actually autistic”.
“You have no f**king idea because you weren’t there and haven’t seen the movie.”
The Grammy nominee replied to another twitter user with a terse “duh” when asked about her research process, adding she had “spent three f**king years researching” and that she was “f**king bummed” at the response to the film’s trailer.
In more tweets addressing the backlash, Sia insisted the story of the film was based on her “neuro atypical friend”, who found acting in the film “too stressful”, along with several other non verbal actors trialled by Sia.
“I did try. It felt more compassionate to use Maddie. That was my call,” she wrote.
“The movie is both a love letter to caregivers and to the autism community.
“I have my own unique view of the community, and [I] felt it is underrepresented and compelled to make it. If that makes me a shit I’m a shit, but my intentions are awesome.”
The ‘Cheap Thrills’ hitmaker said she was “willing to be misunderstood”.
It’s not the first time Sia’s casting choices have come under fire. The music video for her 2015 song ‘Elastic Heart’ featured a dance sequence starring shirtless actor Shia LaBeouf, then 28, and a leotard-clad Zeigler, then 12. It prompted complaints over the pairing being “inappropriate” at best, “paedophilic” at worst.
Sia later apologised to those who felt triggered by the ‘Elastic Heart’ video, saying her intention was to create “emotional content, not upset anybody”.