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Sia apologizes for depiction of autism in movie, adds warning label

Sia addressed the controversy surrounding her film, "Music," which was nominated for two Golden Globes, in a series of tweets before she deactivated her account.
Maddie Ziegler, left, portrays a teenager with autism in Sia's directorial debut, "Music," that also stars Kate Hudson.
Maddie Ziegler, left, portrays a teenager with autism in Sia's directorial debut, "Music," that also stars Kate Hudson.Merrick Morton/Hanway Films
/ Source: Reuters

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Sia addressed the controversy surrounding her directorial feature debut, "Music," after the film earned two Golden Globes nominations Wednesday morning, then promptly deleted her Twitter account. (Sia's Instagram account, which boasts more than 6 million followers, remains active as of Thursday morning.)

In a succession of now-unavailable tweets on Wednesday night, the singer wrote that she has "been listening" to the criticism surrounding the film's portrayal of a nonverbal person with autism by a neurotypical actor, Maddie Ziegler. As a result, the singer announced that a warning will appear at the beginning of the film, specifically about scenes depicting physical restraint.

Sia speaks by video chat about "Music" at a panel during the 2021 Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 30.Amy Sussman / Getty Images for the HFPA

"I promise, have been listening. The motion picture MUSIC will, moving forward, have this warning at the head of the movie," Sia tweeted, followed by the warning, which reads: "MUSIC in no way condones or recommends the use of restraint on autistic people. There are autistic occupational therapists that specialize in sensory processing who can be consulted to explain safe ways to provide proprioceptive, deep-pressure feedback to help w meltdown safety."

Sia then simply tweeted, "I'm sorry," an apology presumably aimed at the members of the autism community who have been vocal about their disappointment in the film's casting and portrayal of autism.

Sia also wrote that all restraint scenes, for which the warning at the beginning of the film is issued, will be removed from public screenings of the film."I plan to remove the restraint scenes from all future printings," she wrote. "I listened to the wrong people and that is my responsibility, my research was clearly not thorough enough, not wide enough."

The tweets remained publicly accessible for just over an hour before Sia deactivated her account.

"Music" earned a nomination for best picture in the musical or comedy category at the 2021 Golden Globes, with star Kate Hudson also picking up a nod for best actress. The recognition reignited controversy surrounding the film, which is scheduled for release at select IMAX theaters on Feb. 10.

In November, Sia became embroiled in a Twitter debate with autism rights activists. Beyond criticizing Sia for casting a neurotypical actor in the role of a person with autism, Twitter users pointed out her use of the term "special abilities" instead of "disabled" for people with autism and discussed whether or not Sia, as a neurotypical person, is exercising undue privilege by making a film centering on autism.

Sia responded to those calling her out with several tweets in which she used blunt language and dismissed the criticism.

"The movie is both a love letter to caregivers and to the autism community," one tweet reads. "I have my own unique view of the community, and felt it is underrepresented and compelled to make it. If that makes me a shit I'm a shit, but my intentions are awesome."

All of this led to the creation of a petition asking for the film to be canceled, which has garnered over 17,000 signatures.

"As an autistic individual, I am asking that this film is canceled," wrote Hannah Marshall, the creator of the petition, on its homepage. "It is extremely offensive to myself and other autistic individuals. Sia has shown no remorse for her inaccurate and hurtful betrayal of the community."

The artist had also had her supporters, like the National Council for Severe Autism, which published a letter from Yuval Levental, a fan with autism, titled, "Thank You for Representing a Girl with Severe Autism."

In a recent interview on the program "Fierce: Women in Music," which airs on SiriusXM's Volume channel, Sia showed remorse for her reaction on social media. "I have to admit to being ableist to a degree; I'm not proud of it," she said, adding, "I've learned my lesson."