The Panther Knows Best: “Music:” One Of The Most Insensitive And Tone-Deaf Films Of All Time


Michael Angee and Isabel Lopez

Australian singer-songwriter Sia managed to create one of the most offensive and insensitive movies in film history. As melodramatic as that sounds, the movie received unacceptable approval by the masses of media and news outlets that considered the movie an accurate representation of those with autism or other disabilities. 

Neurodivergent and neurotypical people sparked immediate outcry across social media, calling Sia out for the blatant disrespect shown throughout the movie. Since the movie shows an ableist (discriminatory and prejudiced behavior towards people with disabilities) representation, the audience lashed out towards the singer and famous actors, since not much media attention came to this issue. 

The saddest part of the film is the fact that multiple executives had to approve this movie (like any other) for it to stream on various platforms. 

Sia uses Maddie Ziegler as the main character. Zieglar is not autistic, making her role in the film even more wrong. Ziegler plays Music, a young autistic girl, while Kate Hudson plays Zu, a sober drug dealer and Music’s half sister. As the movie starts off with Music as the essence of the musical, it trickles down to more about Zu and her life. The musical talks about her love life with the neighbor Ebo Odom, played by actor Leslie Odom Jr., her probation and the hardships Zu handles due to Music.   

Backlash from viewers and critics alike sprouted partly due to Ziegler’s portrayal of the main character with incorrect and exaggerated mannerisms  of an individual on the Autism spectrum. Fans quickly pointed out this mistake, but Sia did not care for the complaints that she had not casted someone who exists as a neurotypical person to play the main character. 

Sia’s acknowledgement of the controversy around the fact that the singer did not put enough effort into casting autistic actors involved a short and blunt response to an autistic actor on Twitter. Sia stated, “Maybe you’re just a bad actor.”

Aside from the actual casting of the main character, the character of Zu also does not bring a positive aspect towards the reasoning why Sia made the movie. Sia stated that she wanted to make a musical for her dear friend who has autism, yet creates a caricature of folks with autism because of the lack of effort and research that went into the production of the film. 

The use of restraints, known as a dangerous and traumatizing way to try to impede Autisic people, was also featured in the movie. In an unfortunate scene, Odom restrains the young girl in a fashion that neurodivergent people find offensive and even traumatic. 

In addition, Sia presented an argument in response to many critics of the movie.  She mentions that Autism Speaks, an organization which advocates for autism while raising awareness, sided with her and was on board during the production of the film., Sia did not help her argument however, since the organization has faced numerous controversies. 

Autism Speaks may seem like the largest autism advocacy organization, yet the organization acts in the opposite fashion. Their original goal is ending autism, with research funds going to find a “cure” for autism, rather than therapies or equipment for the families. The organization has also refused to include an autistic person on the leadership board and only donates 4% of their income towards individuals with autism and families, while the rest goes to the CEOs, according to Autistic Mama.

To top it all off, “Music” received two Golden Globe nominations. Autism activists found this extremely disappointing. “Music” serves as a lesson for all media consumers and producers to work towards creating appropriate and accurate representations of neurodivergent people.