Although the premise to the movie seems innocent, its execution lacks empathy.
‘Window-licker’, ‘spaz’, ‘retard’ - all words I’m sure people are familiar with and understand are damaging. Not only do these words stem from harmful stereotypes, but they also seek to dehumanise autistic people and use their disability as an insult. This was my thought process when watching the trailers and clips for SIA’s new film Music, a story about a nonverbal autistic girl and her half-sister, Kazu, who must adapt to becoming her caregiver. Although the premise to the movie seems innocent, its execution lacks empathy.
To begin with, Maddy Ziegler, who plays Music, is ‘stimming’ throughout the film, with exaggerated facial expressions and arm movements. As a neurotypical person with an autistic brother, I cannot help but feel uncomfortable watching this. It is all too reminiscent of people mocking him and his traits, and therefore I cannot bear to think why people think this is acceptable. Not only this, but some members of the autistic community have spoken out online about feeling that the portrayal of their stims in this way, by a neurotypical person, upsets them.
As well as this, a prone restraint is shown within the film as an acceptable way to deal with a meltdown. Restraining people, especially young people, in this way can not only lead to trauma, but also death, as they are pinned face-down and this can restrict breathing. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence states that this type of restraint should only be used by trained professionals as a last resort, as it can cause death in as little as 10 minutes. Restraints are also only supposed to be applied if the person is going to harm themselves or others. In the film, not only is the restraint Ebo (Music’s neighbour) and Kazu’s first port of call, it is also used inappropriately. Whilst using the restraint, Ebo also says, “I am crushing her with love”, implying that the act of restraining Music in a harmful way is justified. By presenting the restraint in this way, many viewers may think this is a normal and acceptable way to deal with a meltdown when it could potentially be lethal.
Although Sia proclaimed on social media that she would include a trigger warning about the restraint scenes, this is not enough to stop audiences assuming that this is the correct way to deal with an autistic person’s meltdowns. She has also mentioned getting rid of the scenes altogether, however there is no evidence of their removal.
Despite the myriad of problems this film has brought to people’s attention, it has been nominated for a Golden Globe. In my opinion, never mind how well-made or beautifully shot this film is, or how good the soundtrack is, it can never take away the discomfort I have that this film is emulating autistic experiences in this way. Not only are they promoting mocking autistic people and possibly causing harm, but they are profiting from it. This is something I also find difficult to digest and therefore is why I will not be watching Sia’s new film.
Featured image credit: IMDb