Review: Sia’s film “Music” goes wrong with the representation of ableism and racism

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By Menuet Bando, March 9, 2021

Australian singer-songwriter Sia struck a sour note with her new film “Music” which displays a savior complex and racism towards people of color. Not only does this misrepresent people with autism, but the game pokes fun at their characteristics while expressing ableism.

According to National Institute of Mental Health, “Autism spectrum disorders are a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior.” Despite this fact, the film’s plot ignores the true complexity of the disorder while objectifying other ethnicities through stereotypes.

Writer and director Sia neglects to portray the struggles of Music, a nonverbal teenage autistic woman character. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 54 children is on the autism spectrum, and one of the struggles of children with autism is seen as unusual and inconsistent. These characteristics were displayed in the film, but the reaction of other people is inaccurate.

In fact, most people tend to ignore people with autism when they come into contact with them, according to American scientist. People with autism tend to avoid eye contact and make sounds when communicating with others, which makes them uncomfortable. Sia’s movie portrays a false reality as nearly everyone Music meets greets her and gives her treats.

Maddie Ziegler, the music-playing actress and a well-known dancer who is often featured in Sia’s music videos, also exaggerated the facial expressions that seem to mock people with autism.

In addition to the misrepresentation, Sia shows ableism in expressing that music lacks the capacity to take care of itself. The music has someone constantly caring for it throughout the film. Although people with the autism spectrum have more physical and psychological disadvantages, they are still able to maintain their independence on a daily basis.

Even though the film is titled “Music,” the entire film centers around Music’s half-sister, Zu. Zu’s presence in the lives of Music and his neighbor, Ebo, expresses the savior complex throughout the film. Zu’s goal in the film is to save people by solving their problems. As the film progresses, Zu’s presence and choices – whether positive or negative – coincidentally improve the lives of Music and Ebo. The idea is conveyed that without Zu, Music would be in an institution while Ebo would be discouraged by his divorce.

The falsification of the film’s title and plot isn’t the only misrepresentation displayed throughout the film. According to the National Autistic Society, people living on the autism spectrum are known to feel hostile to physical touch, unless they are the one initiating the contact. In the film, Music has two episodes – one caused by overstimulation of surrounding sounds and the other resulting from an interruption in its daily routines. At various points in the film, Ebo and Zu use their body weight to bring the music to the ground and pinch her down to calm her down. However, the National Autistic Society states that the correct method of controlling an episode is to give them space and calmly ask if they are okay, which shows how poorly documented the film has been.

Not only does this film showcase the savior complex, it also shows racism towards blacks and Asians. Although the public is aware that Ebo, with a thick, unidentified accent, is from Africa, Ebo’s exact provenance in Africa is never mentioned.

The same goes for the character, Felix. Although Felix never speaks, his mother and father both speak with strong Asian accents. Felix’s parents also own a laundromat, depicting the characters to match the common Asian stereotype. Neither character has emotional journeys and are all used as props to help Zu and Music’s life.

Autism Speaks, a well-known autism advocacy organization, spent four years involved in the development of the film, but the film overlooks its work and contribution. Sia ignored the scientific research on autism spectrum disorders, which unfortunately was shown in her film. She missed the opportunity to realistically portray people with autism having the ability to effectively get through any day while ignoring the many racist portrayals of people of color displayed in the film.

As a counterpoint to this film, moviegoers should watch the 1988 Oscar winning film “Rain Man” which demonstrates the authenticity of Autism Spectrum Disorder.

“Music” is available to stream on Amazon Prime with an active subscription.

For more information on Autism Spectrum Disorders, visit https://www.autism-society.org/.


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