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Review: Sia’s movie ‘Music’ hits wrong note with depiction of ableism and racism

By Minuet Bando, March 9, 2021

Australian singer-songwriter Sia hit a sour note with her new film “Music” which displays a savior complex and racism toward people of color. Not only does it misrepresent individuals with autism, but the acting mocks their characteristics while expressing ableism.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior.” Despite this fact, the film’s plot disregards the true complexity of the disorder while objectifying other ethnicities by stereotyping.

Screenwriter and director Sia neglects to represent the struggles of Music, a nonverbal teenage autistic woman character. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of 54 children is on the autism spectrum, and one of the autistic children’s struggles is being viewed as unusual and incompatible. These characteristics were displayed in the film, but the reaction of other people is inaccurate.

In reality, most people tend to ignore autistic people when coming in contact with them, according to Scientific American. Autistic people tend to avoid eye contact and make sounds when communicating with others, which makes others feel uncomfortable. Sia’s film depicts a false reality as nearly every person Music encounters greets her and gives her treats.

Maddie Ziegler, the actress playing Music and a well-known dancer who often features in Sia’s music videos, also exaggerated facial expressions that appear to mock individuals with autism.

In addition to the misrepresentation, Sia displays ableism by expressing that Music does not have the capability to care for herself. Music constantly has someone caring for her throughout the film. Although people on the autistic spectrum have more physical and psychological disadvantages, they are still capable of maintaining their independence on a daily basis.

Even though the film is titled “Music,” the entire movie centers around Music’s half-sister, Zu. Zu’s presence in Music’s life and her neighbor’s, Ebo, expresses the savior complex throughout the film. Zu’s purpose in the film is to save people by fixing their problems. As the film progresses, Zu’s presence and choices — whether positive or negative —coincidentally improve Music and Ebo’s lives. The idea is conveyed that without Zu, Music would be at an institution while Ebo would be downhearted about his divorce.

The falsification of the movie title and plot is not the only misrepresentation displayed throughout the film. According to the National Autistic Society, individuals who live on the autistic spectrum are known to feel hostile toward physical touch unless they are the ones to initiate the contact. In the movie, Music has two episodes — one caused by the overstimulating of surrounding sounds and the other resulting from an interruption of her daily routines. At different moments in the film, Ebo and Zu use their body weights to bring Music to the floor and pin her down to calm her. However, the National Autistic Society states that the proper method to control an episode is to give them space and calmly ask if they are OK, which shows how poorly researched the film was.

Not only does this movie exhibit the savior complex, but it also displays racism toward Black and Asian people. Although the audience knows that Ebo, with a thick, unidentified accent, is from Africa, where exactly Ebo is from in Africa is never mentioned.

The same goes for the character, Felix. Even though Felix never speaks, his mother and father both speak with heavy Asian accents. Felix’s parents also own a laundromat, portraying the characters to fit the common Asian stereotype. Neither characters have emotional journeys and are all used as props to assist Zu and Music’s lives.

Autism Speaks, a well-known autism advocacy organization, spent four years taking part in the development of the film, yet the film neglects its work and contribution. Sia disregarded scientific research about the autism spectrum disorder, which sadly showed in her movie. She missed the opportunity to realistically portray autistic people having the capability to efficiently make it through any day while overlooking the extensive racist representations of people of color displayed in the movie.

As a counterpoint to this movie, moviegoers should watch the Academy Award-winning 1988 film “Rain Man,” which demonstrates authenticity of the autism spectrum disorder.

“Music” is available to stream on Amazon Prime with an active subscription.

For more information about Autism Spectrum Disorder, visit https://www.autism-society.org/.

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