Sia’s directorial debut, Music, has yet to premiere—but it’s already caused the singer-songwriter quite some trouble.
In Music, Kate Hudson plays a newly sober woman who assumes guardianship of her autistic half-sister, played by Maddie Ziegler. Critics from the autism community began speaking out against the film last November—and Sia, apparently defensive, largely treated them with dismissiveness and disdain. On Tuesday, however, Sia struck a different tone after a pair of Golden Globe nominations reignited the controversy. Rather than lash out at her critics, the singer apologized and vowed that a warning label will now appear at the beginning of the film—which will also be edited to eliminate harmful scenes in future printings.
“I promise, have been listening,” Sia wrote, per Variety, in a series of tweets that would later disappear after she deleted her account. The singer added that the film will now begin with a warning: “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.”
Additionally, Sia vowed that the scenes depicting physical restraint will be removed from future printings of the film. After roughly an hour, she deleted her Twitter, although her Instagram remains active.
Although most people have yet to see Music for themselves, certain aspects of its casting and production raised alarm early on. The most common critique: Why did Sia hire her frequent muse Maddie Ziegler, who is not autistic, to play someone who is? As Helen Zbihlyj, an actor who is also on the spectrum, told The Daily Beast back in November, “This role could have been an amazing opportunity for an autistic actress that may never get the chance otherwise.”
Sia did not seem to appreciate the criticisms. In response to Zbihlyj’s tweets, the musician wrote, “Maybe you’re just a bad actor.” In a separate tweet, she wrote, “Grrrrrrrrrr. Fuckity fuck why don’t you watch my film before you judge it? FURY.”
None of the autistic performers who spoke with The Daily Beast objected to the idea of reserving judgment until after they’d seen the film; as one source pointed out, none of them was calling for a boycott. At the same time, AEA stage manager Emily Paige Ballou said, “Autistic people are famous for our pattern recognition, and nothing I’ve seen so far suggests to me that this movie would be an enjoyable or enlightening use of my time, as opposed to simplistic at best, and incredibly hurtful and belittling at worst, in ways that we are sadly all too familiar with.”
In addition to questioning the casting of Ziegler, advocates have spoken out about the physical restraint depiction. In a statement to USA Today Zoe Gross, Director of Advocacy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, said, “MUSIC doesn’t just promote harmful stereotypes about autistic people—it shows restraints that have killed members of our community as necessary and loving acts. This film should never have been made, and it shouldn’t be shown.”
Addressing those scenes, Sia wrote Tuesday, “I listened to the wrong people and that is my responsibility, my research was clearly not thorough enough, not wide enough.”
A representative for Sia did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.