Not-So Golden: Sia’s Controversial ‘Music’ Receives Globe Nominations


Merrick Morton/Vertical Entertainment

Gia Shin, Staff Writer

When the Golden Globes nominee list was announced on February 3rd, one film stood out from the rest, but not for the reason one might expect. Sia’s feature film, Music, has been receiving backlash since last year due to several controversies, the most significant of which is that she cast Maddie Ziegler, a neurotypical star, to play the role of an autistic character.

There are various issues of concern regarding the film, the first one being the very opening scene. There are flashing strobe lights and colors without warning, which are overstimulating for autistic people and can even cause seizures for those with photosensitive epilepsy, which is commonly found among them. Moreover, Ziegler’s performance throughout the entire film is a caricature of autistic movements and body language. Exaggerating the mannerisms of autistic people is how neurotypical people often bully those who are developmentally disabled. Thus, the film, however unintentionally, seemed to be a mockery of autistic people, perpetuating a stigma. “[Ziegler’s body language] was herky-jerky and robotic and unnatural to the point of absurdity. As autistics, we don’t really have great control over our movements, but even in their perceived unnaturalness, there is usually still something very human and natural about them,” wrote @sarcasticsunshine on Instagram.

“I honestly think that casting Maddie Ziegler as an autistic character was extremely inappropriate,” Nina Bogosian (’23) said. “There has been a lot of news recently saying that Maddie herself was uncomfortable with portraying this character, but nobody listened to her because of her age. Sia also said that she tried to work with a nonverbal actress on the spectrum before casting Maddie, but said that it didn’t work out. Even if that [were] the case, I don’t understand why she wouldn’t put in the effort to try and find someone who was still on the spectrum but would be able to handle an environment on a film set better.” According to an interview on The Project, an Australian talk show, Maddie cried on the first day of rehearsals because she was worried that the community would make fun of her.

To disarm her critics, Sia revealed on Twitter, “I actually tried working with a beautiful young girl non-verbal on the spectrum and she found it unpleasant and stressful. So that’s why I cast Maddie.” However, Sia only perpetuated backlash when she responded to one user who tweeted, “Several autistic actors, myself included, responded to these tweets. We all said we could have acted in it on short notice. These excuses are just that—excuses. The fact of the matter is zero effort was made to include anyone who is actually autistic.” Users were stunned by her response: “Maybe you’re just a bad actor.”

Sia defended her casting choice on The Project, saying, “I realized it wasn’t ableism—I mean, it is ableism, I guess, as well—but it’s actually nepotism because I can’t do a project without her. I don’t want to.” She also claimed, “we sent [Ziegler’s performance] off to the Child Mind Institute, and she received a 100% as performance accuracy.”

But casting is not the only point of contention. The movie promotes deadly restraint techniques, where people, often disabled, are put face-down and another force is exerted upon them. After dealing with complaints from critics, Sia apologized and promised to remove the restraint scenes from future screenings.  

“Music” was nominated for best picture in the musical or comedy category at this year’s Golden Globes, with Kate Hudson picking up a nomination for best actress. As a result of all the controversy, a petition to cancel the film garnered 17,000 signatures. Sia apologized to the autism community for perpetuating dated stereotypes and misrepresentation.