Sia did not let accusations that she was “capable” in directing her upcoming film, “Music” pass without comment, and the pop star-turned-filmmaker spent the early hours of Friday tangling with it. disabled activists who challenged it on several points. Among the grievances she addressed, sometimes with palpable anger: her use of the term “special abilities” instead of “disabled” for people with autism; casting of a non-autistic actor in the lead role of his directorial debut; and whether a non-autistic person exercises an undue privilege by making a film centered on the subject.
While “Music” won’t be released until February, a trailer for the film released Thursday sparked rifts on Twitter, to which Sia was quick to respond in sometimes surprisingly blunt language.
“This is totally unacceptable and there are no excuses,” tweeted one user, Jordana Golbourn, a legitimate scene pro involved in community engagement in London. “You should know better than allowing able-bodied and neurotypical people to represent the disability community. It’s incredibly offensive, as is the character’s infantalization. Sick. And not even subtitled. Don’t let go.
Sia replied, “I actually tried working with a beautiful, non-verbal girl on the spectrum and she found it unpleasant and stressful. That’s why I chose Maddie, ”she said, referring to her longtime collaborator Maddie Ziegler (whose character is apparently not identified as autistic in the script, but is generally understood to be being at the non-verbal end of the spectrum). Elsewhere she said, “Casting someone at the functioning (character) level was cruel, not nice, so I made the executive decision that we would do our best to lovingly represent the community. … I tried. It was more compassionate to use Maddie. It was my call.
At the start of the trips, Sia wrote: “The film is both a love letter to caregivers and the autistic community. I have my own vision of the community and I think it is under-represented and obligated to do so. If that makes me shit, I’m shit, but my intentions are great.
While there were a handful of users who defended Sia by pointing to films from decades past that won awards for legendary actors for their portrayals of people with disabilities, they were vastly overwhelmed by those who expressed their anger at his explanations of his choices, and Sia’s own anger came before. “Grrrrrrrrrr,” she said at one point. “Holy shit, why don’t you watch my movie before you judge it?” FURY.”
Grrrrrrrrrr. Holy shit why don’t you watch my movie before you judge it? FURY.
– be (@Sia) November 20, 2020
The singer-director went to great lengths to say that she had mobilized the contributions of people with autism and their advocates throughout the process. In her last tweet (for now) on Friday morning, she responded to a woman who asked her, “Have you done any research or consulted the community? It is very condescending to say that it would be cruel to consult a disabled actor. Response from Sia: “Duh. I spent three fucking years doing research, I think that’s why I’m so disappointed.
Sia pointed out that “here are 13 people on the spectrum in the film,” specifying elsewhere: “I chose 13 neuroatypical people, three trans people, and not as fucking prostitutes or drug addicts, but as doctors, nurses and singers. Damn sad no one even saw dang’s movie. My heart has always been in the right place. She also wrote: “I had two people on the spectrum who were advising me at all times.”
The exchanges only intensified, however, when Sia cited Autism Speaks as the group standing behind her film, only to deal with comments that many autistic people view this organization as the enemy. “Autism Speaks came on board long after the movie ended,” Sia replied, “four years actually.” (The movie had been waiting to be completed and distributed for years since filming.) “I had no idea they were such a polarizing band!”
Wrote another user, @mysicksadlife: “If she had spoken to 3 or 4 people with autism, we would have told her [Autism Speaks] is ableist and wants us to be fixed or dead.
At the height of the tension online, user @HelenAngel wrote: “Several actors with autism including myself… We all said we could have played it in the short term. These excuses are just that – excuses, the point is that no effort has been made to include anyone who truly has autism.
Sia’s response didn’t lessen the antagonism: “Maybe you’re just a bad actor,” the star tweeted.
A big point of contention is Sia’s use of terminology which many advocates dispute. Sia tweeted, perhaps not knowing she was kindling the flame, “I never called (the main character) disabled. Special abilities, that’s what I’ve always said.
It was the exact opposite of what many of those hiring him wanted to hear – the word ‘special’ came to be seen as condescending and derogatory in these contexts, they tweeted, while ‘disabled’ was widely adopted.
“Sia is able to do AF while pretending she meant to be serious capable savior bullshit,” tweeted Kristen Parisi, founder of @MediaDisabled. “I can’t believe that so many people turned on this project and the press team endorsed the language of ‘special abilities’. People with disabilities were clearly not part of this production team. “
Amid the back-and-forth, Sia expressed a wish to her detractors that may seem distant after the divisive note on which Friday’s exchanges ended: “I really hope you see the movie (s) ( s) where you can be less angry. “
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