Why I won't be watching Sia's new film

Sia's directorial debut has already come under fire, but the recently released clips and trailers haven't helped to change minds

Gabbi De Boer
26th February 2021
HOW would you feel if you were being mocked for something you cannot control?

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.

Sia directing on set
Image credit: IMDb

Featured image credit: IMDb

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  1. how could you know that the "restraint" is presented in a way that encourages audiences to emulate? Are you so brainwashed that you think movies represent moral society that we should all strive toward? Someone with a healthy mind does not watch La La Land and think dancing on top of cars in a traffic jam is normal, or encouraged. Are you, or do you think the average person, is so delusional that you think they can't separate reality from movies? Also, you mentioned feeling uncomfortable at an actor's portrayal of an autistic person. Are you uncomfortable because this is "too realistic", or "too unrealistic"? Either way, do you virtue signal about not watching a movie with a disturbing performance, say Split (a psychological horror movie) because it makes you feel "uncomfortable"? Also, please don't think this comment is "about you", because I feel as if this entire "review" (of a movie of which you have only seen trailers of, and heard from other people) is only written to please yourself. From the second paragraph, you already mention how YOU feel and make it about yourself. Do you dislike any movie featuring a character with a mental illness? Do you feel as if characters with mental illnesses can only be portrayed by actors with mental illnesses? Is that the standard that you are striving toward? Do you think actors with split personality disorder make for good performances as characters? Also, you say this movie is "mocking autistic people", so you find it "difficult to digest" and appear to be suggesting that such a movie does not deserve an audience. How do you feel about movies like "12 years a slave"? How can such horrendous depictions of slavery be allowed to exist? How can black people be shown on screen, being abused? Does that not pull your fragile heartstrings the same way? Do you want movies to all be reminiscent of Cartoon Network, where only wholesome things happen, and realistic depications of the dirty, evil world we live in don't exist?

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