ENTERTAINMENT
05/01/2021 10:00 GMT

Sia Says ‘Nepotism’ Is Why She Cast Maddie Ziegler In Her New Film

The singer says ableism wasn't at the heart of her decision to cast her longtime collaborator, who is not autistic, as the autistic teen at the centre of Music.

Sia has once again weighed in on the controversy surrounding her upcoming film by saying she “can’t do a project” without her longtime and frequent collaborator Maddie Ziegler.

The Chandelier singer was criticised in November after she cast Maddie, an 18-year-old dancer who has appeared in most of Sia’s recent music videos, as the lead in her new film, Music.

In the film, Maddie plays Music, a non-verbal autistic teen, but because Maddie is not autistic, many in the autistic and disability community expressed numerous concerns over the casting.

They argued that giving the role to a non-autistic actor was not only ablelist — a term used to describe discrimination against disabled people — but could also perpetuate harmful stereotypes about autism.

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In response to the criticism, Sia lashed out at many autistic people on Twitter.

During her tirade, Sia said she thought casting someone who shared Music’s “level of functioning” would be “cruel” — a sentiment many advocates found offensive. 

A month later, when questioned about her response to the autism community, Sia said “people functioning at Music’s level can’t get on Twitter and tell me I did a good job.”

Advocates found this comment troubling as well. Not only did it make the baseless assumption that someone who is non-verbal and autistic wouldn’t know how to use the social media platform, but it also indicated Sia did not truly understand the condition.

Over the weekend, however, Sia told the Australian talk show The Project that she simply couldn’t do the film without Maddie.

 

“I realised it wasn’t ableism,” Sia said on the show. “I mean, it is ableism, I guess, as well — but it’s actually nepotism, because I can’t do a project without her. I don’t want to. I wouldn’t make art if it didn’t include her.”

Sia also admitted on The Project that Maddie had initially felt unease about playing an autistic character. The musician said Maddie “cried on the first day of rehearsals” and worried viewers would think she was “making fun” of autistic people.

“I bold-facedly said, ‘I won’t let that happen,’” Sia said on the show, adding, “Last week I realised I couldn’t really protect her from that, which I thought I could.”

In 2017, The Guardian published an article titled The Sia Conundrum: If Fame Is So Damaging, Why Pass It On To A Child? which examined Sia’s discomfort with fame and her tendency to deflect fame onto Maddie, whom Sia has been working with since the dancer was 11 years old.

“This article poses a question I have asked myself often,” Sia tweeted in response to The Guardian’s article. “I do check in with Maddie weekly about whether she wants this, and assure her if she ever wants it to stop it stops.”