Popular Australian singer and director Sia has ended up facing a severe backlash online due to a particular casting decision she made in a certain upcoming feature of hers.
Earlier this week, Sia offered her social media audience a sneak peek of a new movie she wrote and directed, "Music", which is set to be released next year.
The film's cast includes Maddie Ziegler who, while not disabled herself, portrays a "teen with autism who conveys her feelings to the outside world through a tablet", as CNN points out, with the character apparently being based on Sia's "neuroatypical friend" who found it too stressful being nonverbal.
This casting choice, however, apparently did not sit well with quite a few netizens, who went on to give Sia a piece of their mind, with even the National Autistic Society joining the discussion.
Please hire disabled actors when covering disability. This is a role that should have gone to a disabled actor.— Emma Renshaw (@renshaw_emma) November 19, 2020
.@sia has got this one wrong. There are so many talented autistic actors out there – like Saskia, Alex, Max, and Holly who starred in our #AutismTMI films: https://t.co/f1aWSs2nXM https://t.co/Vsts6g8728— National Autistic Society (@Autism) November 20, 2020
Shameful. I’d be interested to know what or who @maddieziegler studied to create her character? Her portrayal is a classic stereotypical INACCURATE depiction.— GrrrArgggh (@DejectedKat) November 20, 2020
Sia, why cast a neurotypical & able-bodied individual when you could have actually casted someone with a disability in this role? Don’t you see how that’s kind of erasing the very people you’re trying to represent? There are many individuals with disabilities trying to make it!— Gabby Renee 💫 (@gabbyxrenee) November 19, 2020
In response, Sia herself launched a flurry of tweets to defend her decision, arguing that she "cast thirteen neuroatypical people, three trans folk, and not as f*cking prostitutes or drug addicts" but as "doctors, nurses and singers", and that she "hired plenty of special abilities kids".
Many social media users,however, appeared unconvinced by her reasoning.
The fact that you had an autistic person cast and were unable to provide a safe and accessible space for her to perform in is humiliating, considering you claim to care for someone with autism so much. You are doing nothing for the neurodivergent community— frick (@lilroastytoasty) November 20, 2020
So you decided to double down AND be anti sex worker and judge addicts. This is embarrassing for you at this point. You could have apologized for doing things the way you did, but instead you’re defending it with “but it’s my art!”— Janee (@Janeelessthan3) November 20, 2020
Disabled. Autistic. Not special abilities. I am not spiderman.— SlaapkamerActivist (@SlaapkamerA) November 20, 2020
"Disabled" may be a dirty word to you but it's my word of empowerment. "Special abilities" is a nonsense phrase that further fuels the misunderstanding and miseducation surrounding disability. I have to be permanently disabled, the least you can do is say the word. #BoycottSia pic.twitter.com/1vcbwRVeoY— Anna [💡] [🐡] (@unwrit_alphabit) November 20, 2020
A number of people, however, seemed to approve of Sia's move.
Please ignore them Sia, I'm a disabled person and am not offended by the premise of your film. I have been criticised by some of the disabled community for my opinion but my opinion remains unchanged.I look forward to seeing it and judging it on its merits.— KazzaMcGazza (@mrskazzamcgazza) November 20, 2020
You did this exactly how you FELT it should be done.— Bravo (@Thirst4truth8) November 21, 2020
Would people be blasting #PattyDuke today if she was alive and playing #HelenKeller ?
People really have their knives out& ready! It's a shame.
I look forward to this film.
You are a spectacular human being Sia. Love you😘