Review: Sia’s ‘Music’ movie hits the wrong note with portrayal of ableism and racism

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By Minuet BandoMarch 9, 2021

Australian singer-songwriter Sia has struck a sour note with her new film ‘Music’ which displays a savior complex and racism towards people of colour. Not only does it misrepresent autistic people, but the game pokes fun at their characteristics while expressing ableism.

According to National Institute of Mental Health, “autism spectrum disorder is 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-director Sia neglects to portray the struggles of Music, a non-verbal autistic teenage 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 autistic children is seen as unusual and incompatible. These characteristics were displayed in the film, but the reaction of other people is inaccurate.

In reality, 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 feel uncomfortable. Sia’s film depicts a false reality as nearly everyone Music meets greets her and gives her treats.

Maddie Ziegler, the musical actress and a well-known dancer who often features in Sia’s music videos, also exaggerated facial expressions that appear to poke fun at people with autism.

In addition to misrepresentation, Sia displays ableism by expressing that music does not have the ability to take care of itself. The music constantly has someone looking after it throughout the film. Although people with autism have more physical and psychological disabilities, they are still able to maintain their independence on a daily basis.

Even though the film is titled “Music”, the whole film centers around Music’s half-sister, Zu. The presence of Zu in the life 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 Music and Ebo’s lives. The idea is conveyed that without Zu, Music would be in an institution while Ebo would be disheartened by his divorce.

The tampering with the film’s title and plot isn’t the only misrepresentation displayed throughout the film. According to the National Autistic Society, people who live on the autism spectrum are known to feel hostile to physical touch unless they are the ones initiating the touch. In the film, Music has two episodes – one caused by overstimulation of surrounding sounds and the other resulting from a disruption in his daily routines. At various points in the film, Ebo and Zu use their body weight to bring the music to the ground and pin it down to calm it 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 was.

Not only does this film present the savior complex, but it also displays racism towards blacks and Asians. Although the audience knows that Ebo, with a thick, unidentified accent, is from Africa, Ebo’s exact origin in Africa is never mentioned.

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

Autism Speaks, a well-known autism advocacy organization, spent four years helping to develop the film, but the film overlooks their work and input. Sia ignored scientific research on autism spectrum disorders, which unfortunately showed in her film. She missed the opportunity to realistically portray people with autism having the ability to get through any day effectively while overlooking the extensive racist portrayals of people of color displayed in the film.

As a counterpoint to this film, moviegoers should check out 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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