Lancashire Times
A Voice of the North
Helena Hurworth
Media Correspondent
10:36 AM 16th February 2021

Why Sia’s Debut Film Should Never Have Been Nominated For A Golden Globe

With every award season comes new controversy. It seems inevitable that Hollywood will never quite shake its own prejudices, and – after a year like no other – the 2021 Golden Globe nominations have once again exposed a side of the film industry that is discriminatory.

It is not a stretch to say that the nominations this year have left many confused. Heavy hitters like Bridgerton and I May Destroy You have been completely left off the list of nominations, whilst widely criticised shows like Emily In Paris have received nods, and James Corden was nominated over Meryl Streep. But, amid all of this is one film that has attracted more controversy than any other: Sia’s debut film Music.

Music is a musical drama film that presents itself as a heartwarming tale of two sisters, one of whom is autistic. Ever since the project was first announced, it has come under fire from the autistic community for being ignorant and potentially damaging. The premise of the film hinges on Kate Hudson’s newly sober character becoming sole guardian for her non-verbal autistic sister, played by Maddie Ziegler.

One problem here is in the casting of a neurotypical actor. When pushed on the issue, Sia has repeatedly defended her choice to cast her long-time collaborator, claiming in one tweet that “casting someone at her level of functioning was cruel, not kind”, only to be met with a surge of autistic actors tweeting that they would have loved the part. Not only that, but the implication that functionality is something static shows just how uninformed she is about the subject. Each individual experiences their autism differently, and functionality is often fluid, based on a range of circumstances.

The problems don’t end there. In researching for the film, Sia worked with Autism Speaks; an organisation which believes autism is something to be cured rather than celebrated. She then included scenes in the film of dangerous restraint being used on Ziegler’s character, portraying it as an act of love rather than one of disturbing violence (children have died as a result of such practices in real life). Sia might think she can make up for these missteps by placing a trigger warning at the start of the film, but the whole thing perpetuates harmful, damaging stereotypes about the autistic community.

Unfortunately, this is nothing new to the neurodiverse community, who have been dealing with haphazard media portrayals and wide-spread fear-mongering for years. Just take a look at the painfully common anti-vaxxer argument: vaccines cause autism (spoiler alert: no, they don’t). We live in a world where there are people out there who would rather see their child die from one of the numerous diseases protected against by vaccines, than be neurodiverse. This ignorance stems largely from the stereotype that autistic individuals are difficult and challenging, and that it is brave to simply love them; a stereotype perpetuated once again in Music.

These stereotypes are so common that this 'ableist' approach is almost to be expected, but that does not mean it should be tolerated. Organisations like the Hollywood Foreign Press Association need to start thinking about the films that they give a platform to. By nominating film’s like Music for such prestigious awards, they have simply become part of the problem, legitimising these harmful views. Ableism might not be talked about as often as issues such as sexism and racism, but it is a very real problem that Hollywood needs to address.