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Sia doubles down on decision to cast Maddie Ziegler as autistic teen in new film

Written by on December 16, 2020

Sia is standing by her decision to cast Maddie Ziegler as an autistic teen in her feature film directorial debut, despite the backlash.

During an interview with Australia’s 10 News First about the project, titled Music, the Australian singer was asked about the criticism she faced from the autism community and beyond for having the Dance Moms alum, who’s her frequent collaborator, playing a low-functioning autistic teenager named Music who finds herself in the care of her half-sister Zu (Kate Hudson), a newly sober drug dealer.

“There is no way I could have used someone” of the character’s “level of functioning to play” the role, Sia said on the news show.

She continued, “I also needed a dancer, for [the character’s] imaginary life,” referring to the Music’s dream sequences.

Sia added, “It’s not a documentary. Kate isn’t a drug dealer and Leslie Odom Jr. [who plays Ebo] isn’t from Ghana.”

When the “Chandelier” singer first shared the trailer for the film, out in 2021, she was accused of ableism for putting Ziegler, a neurotypical actor, in the role of an autistic person. In defending her choice, Sia faced further criticism. For instance, she said “casting someone at [Music’s] level of functioning was cruel, not kind,” a sentiment that was slammed by autism advocacy groups.

Sia also said she had “actually tried working with a a beautiful young girl non verbal on the spectrum” initially, and “she found it unpleasant and stressful. So that’s why I cast Maddie.” And that the “character is based completely on my neuro atypical friend. He found it too stressful being non verbal, and I made this movie with nothing but love for him and his mother.”

LOS ANGELES, CA - FEBRUARY 08:  Dancer Maddie Ziegler (L) and singer/songwriter Sia attend The 57th Annual GRAMMY Awards at the STAPLES Center on February 8, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Vespa/WireImage)
Sia with Maddie Ziegler at the 2015 Grammys. (Photo: Jeff Vespa/WireImage)

During the exchanges, Sia said she spent three years researching the film and cast “thirteen neuroatypical people, three trans folk, and not as f**king prostitutes or drug addicts but as doctors, nurses and singers. F**king sad nobody’s even seen the dang movie. My heart has always been in the right place.”

The whole thing got pretty nasty, including an exchange with an actor who is autistic.

Sia’s new interview takes place days after she went public — on the heels of FKA twigs accusing Shia LaBeouf of sexual battery and “relentless abuse”— to claim the Transformers actor “conned” her “into an adulterous relationship” and called him a “pathological liar.”

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