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I'm Sorry Sia Has Been Suicidal, but It Doesn't Erase the Harm She Caused to Autistic People

“Music” is a film written and produced by Sia that was released in February 2021. From the second previews began to air, the backlash started pouring in. The biggest controversy was the fact that Sia chose a neurotypical actor (Maddie Ziegler) to portray an autistic person. Many autistics, including me, wrote about our concerns online. Neurodivergent people need to be represented by neurodivergent people. Let’s just say that Sia did not handle her response to this valid criticism well.

Recently, Sia made a statement saying she felt suicidal and ended up in rehab after a relapse because of the extreme outrage over the movie.

First off, I want to make sure that I am respecting and not invalidating Sia’s struggle with suicidal thoughts. I myself have struggled with suicidal ideations for as long as I can remember. We can’t discredit Sia’s feelings and what she is going through. That being said, that is far more respect than Sia showed the autistic community.

I watched the movie and it was two hours of my life I am never going to get back. I don’t get offended easily, at least about autism. I often make jokes about myself, some that people might deem a little tasteless. You either laugh or cry about it, and while I do both, I prefer laughing. But from the second Maddie Ziegler danced onto the screen, I felt ice running through my blood. Her character, to me, felt like a very offensive caricature of autism. I had to mask through the movie because I felt self-conscious showing any autistic behavior. Every time she moved her head, twitched her fingers, or even had her mouth open, I felt like someone was making fun of me.

There was also the issue of restraint being shown as a technique to help calm down autistics. Restraining someone can be dangerous, even deadly if done improperly. I was restrained by my father many times and it was incredibly traumatizing. I actually had a meltdown during one of the restraint scenes because of how much it upset me. I was not the only one who had issues with these scenes. Sia had to respond to the criticism of the restraining scenes by putting this disclaimer at the beginning of the movie: “’Music’ in no way condones or recommends the use of restraint on autistic people. There are autistic occupational therapists that specialize in sensory processing who can be consulted to explain safe ways to provide proprioceptive, deep-pressure feedback to help with meltdown safety.”

All in all, this entire situation has been a mess. The lesson we need to take away from this is that autistic people are our own best self-experts. When we advocate for ourselves, people need to listen and respect what we are saying. We also need to have much better representation in the media. I want little autistic children to watch a movie or a show about someone with autism and feel good to see themselves on the screen.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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