Brow Beat

Why Is Sia Cursing Out Autistic Critics on Twitter?

Sia, wearing a multilayered ruffled dress and a large black-and-white wig that covers her entire face, stands alone on a stage.
Sia performs onstage at the Greek Theatre in L.A. in September 2019. Presley Ann/Getty Images

The celebrities are back at it again. Since the disaster of that “Imagine” video from approximately 25 years ago, the rich and famous have largely seemed to recognize that this is neither the time nor place for their antics. (Except you, Dolly Parton. Keep doing what you’re doing.) But Australian singer and professional wig-wearer Sia unleashed a truly astounding Twitter rant on Friday that culminated in a tweet that will live rent free in my brain for at least a week:

You have questions, and we have answers. Here we go.

Why is Sia growling on Twitter?

On Thursday, Sia tweeted out the trailer to her upcoming film Music, which she wrote, directed, and recorded an entire album for. Music stars Maddie Ziegler as a nonverbal autistic teen named Music who loves, well, music. The film also features Kate Hudson as Music’s sister (and a former drug dealer) who takes custody of the teen and Leslie Odom Jr. as a neighbor.

The trailer was quickly met with criticism from many in the autistic community, who took issue with, among other things, a neurotypical actress being cast to play Music and the film’s connection with the organization Autism Speaks.

Critics also noted that Ziegler apparently used videos of autistic children having meltdowns as the basis for the character of Music, despite the fact that many autistic people view meltdown videos as fundamentally exploitative.

Wait, what’s wrong with Autism Speaks?

The organization has long been the subject of criticism by autistic self-advocates for centering the the experiences of parents rather than those of autistic people. As Sara Luterman wrote for Slate, Autism Speaks “suggests parents of newly diagnosed autistic children go through the five stages of grief for their (still-living) child, among other regressive and dangerous narratives about autism.” And while the organization’s website no longer states that it’s looking for a cure for autism—which many self-advocates say is akin to saying they’re broken and need to be fixed when in actuality what they need is acceptance and accommodations—the guide they give to parents with newly diagnosed autistic children directly contradicts that.

Got it. So how did Sia respond to all of this criticism?

Suffice to say that Sia did not take kindly to the reaction from the community that she claims she was writing a love letter to (with “awesome” intentions, she added). She said that the character of Music is based on a close friend of hers and expressed confusion about the backlash. Sia also said that she attempted to cast an autistic actor in the role of Music, but the actor found it too stressful so it was “more compassionate to use Maddie” and that there are “thirteen neuroatypical people [and] three trans folks” in other roles in the movie. Then her responses grew more and more hostile: In one memorable exchange, Sia told an autistic actor who pointed out that she and others would have been willing to act in the movie that maybe she was “just a bad actor.”

In another series of replies, Sia states that she spent “three fucking years” researching for Music, which only makes it more puzzling that she was apparently unaware of the controversy surrounding Autism Speaks. Nor did she learn enough to not describe her venture using another controversial movie involving autism: She compared Music to “Rain Man the musical, but with girls.”

Rain Man … the musical?? With girls???

Coming to theaters and/or a streaming service near you in early 2021.