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Music the Movie Proves Tone Deaf for our Community

I’ve made no secret that I’m a big music lover, But I’m afraid that doesn’t translate on screen with the upcoming release of Music falling on deaf ears within the disability community.

The directorial film debut of Australian singer/songwriter Sia, the movie is a musical drama that tells the story of an autistic non-verbal teenager called Music who can only communicate through – you guessed it – music. Sia also wrote the screenplay alongside children’s book author Dallas Clayton and the movie is set to open on screens mid-2021.

Writing the screenplay alongside children’s book author Dallas Clayton, Sia gave us a first glimpse at the film with the first trailer dropped last month ahead of its planned mid-2021 release.

To say it was met with strong criticism would be an understatement.

Featuring notable Hollywood stars including Kate Hudson (Almost Famous), Leslie Odom Jr. (Hamilton) and long-time Sia collaborator, Maddie Ziegler (she’s the girl dancing in all her video clips), social media went into a tailspin with the lack of disability representation – particularly the decision to cast Ziegler (an abled body person) in the title role of Music.

While Sia was quick to point out that she didn’t cast a disabled actor because “casting someone at (Music’s) level of functioning was cruel, not kind, so I made the executive decision that we would do our best to lovingly represent the community.”

Herein lies the first issue I have: while, on the surface, you can appreciate Sia’s point of view, what she has done is make an assumption she is “lovingly representing the community”.

There’s nothing that annoys people living with a disability more is when abled body people assume they know what is best for us. Here’s a thought – WHY DON’T YOU JUST ASK US?!

I understand that sometimes these things come from a good place, but we’re people just like you so why not have a conversation with us to find out what we ‘need’. I can guarantee it will save you a lot of time and money down the track.

Secondly, it raises the important conversation around representation. My mate Dylan Alcott beats this drum a lot – as a young kid, he never saw people in wheelchair on TV. If he did, they were always the victims of car accidents in the ‘Don’t Speed’ campaigns.

Now Dylan is one of the loudest voices for people living with a disability. He gets thousands of messages from people on how he is helping to normalise disability in the community, and it all comes down to greater representation.

The fact the Music doesn’t feature a person on the autism spectrum is just plain dumb. There are countless actors across the world who are living on the spectrum, however it could be argued either disassociation or just plain apathy meant they weren’t even considered. Imagine if you are a young kid living with a disability right now – would you dream of being an actor when you don’t see anyone like you in the media?

Finally, it brings me to my last point, which is specifically about what the movie is centred around – Autism.

Autism is a condition that affects how a person thinks, feels, interacts with others and experiences their environment. However, it’s also important to know that every Autistic person is different to the other – that’s why autism is described as a ‘spectrum’.

The character of Music is described as a non-verbal Autistic person and, typically, is what society imagines all people living on the Autism spectrum are like. Another Hollywood example is Dustin Hoffman’s Oscar- winning performance as Autistic savant Ray in Rain Main.

While there are people in the world who in a similar place on the Autism spectrum as Music and Ray, it’s dangerous to presume anyone and everyone living with autism are the same. These two characters are a small minority in what is already a small minority.

It’s like any stereotype really. Don’t assume every person of Asian appearance likes karaoke, or every American carries a gun. Not every genius has Autism, and not every person with Autism is a genius. One person’s experience is not everyone’s experience, therefore you can’t assume if you know one story you know them all.

That’s why representation is so important. You can forgive ignorance as being down right unaware, but assumptions are so much harder to digest. And that’s where I save my greatest critique for Sia and Music.

When you don’t engage in any consultative process. When you don’t research and educate yourself on who and where is best get advice from. When you dismiss and, frankly, insult the communities with which you’re trying to “help”...well, in my opinion, this movie was always going to be a disaster in the first place.


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