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Sia responds to criticism after casting Maddie Ziegler as teen with autism in new film

The singer has taken to social media to defend her upcoming film "Music."
Maddie Ziegler plays a teen named Music in the new film, which will be released in February 2021.
Maddie Ziegler plays a teen named Music in the new film, which will be released in February 2021.Sia / YouTube
/ Source: TODAY

Singer Sia is facing backlash from many social media users after releasing a trailer for her new film "Music," which she co-wrote and directed.

The movie, which will be released in February 2021, is described as a "cinematic experience from Sia" and follows the story of Music, a young teen with autism.

A scene from the upcoming film "Music."
A scene from the upcoming film "Music."Sia / YouTube

The singer cast 18-year-old dancer Maddie Ziegler in the role of the film's namesake and many people are arguing that the 44-year-old should have given the job to a teen who is actually on the autism spectrum.

After watching the trailer for the film, many critics took to Twitter to express their disappointment with Sia's casting choice, arguing that it was an "ableist" decision.

Many Twitter users, including some autistic actors, questioned why Ziegler (who Sia has worked with for years) was given the role and said this was a missed opportunity to hire someone from an underrepresented community.

Imani Barbarin, a woman with cerebral palsy who regularly tweets about living with a disability, expressed her concerns on Twitter: "She produced a film peddling a harmful stereotype of disabled people and refused to cast a disabled person to play a disabled person," she wrote.

The hashtag #SiaDoesntSpeakForUs was soon trending and the singer began to respond to several of her critics. In one tweet, Sia said she cast 13 "neuroatypical people" in the film as "doctors, nurses and singers."

In another tweet, the 44-year-old revealed that the character Music is based off one of her close friends.

When one Twitter user, who claimed to be an autistic actor, argued that "zero effort was made to include anyone who is actually autistic," the singer replied and wrote, "Maybe you're just a bad actor."

The film, which also stars Kate Hudson and Leslie Odom Jr., will showcase songs from Sia's new album of the same name and the trailer shows the actors dancing and singing their hearts away in several scenes.

Several critics asked the singer if she did any research or consulted members of the autistic community while working the film. Sia said she spent three years researching and revealed that she had two people on the autism spectrum advising her at all times.

The singer went on to explain that her friend on the spectrum found the concept of acting to be too stressful and said that she thought it would be more compassionate to cast Ziegler.

When several people said they're concerned that the film mocks people with disabilities, Sia responded and wrote, "Mocking is the very last thing either Maddie or I wanted to be so misunderstood. Please watch it before you judge it."

TODAY has reached out to Sia and "Music" producers for additional comments and did not immediately hear back.