My Hopes for Sia’s ‘Music’
Things can only get better, right?
I work for and with autistic people, study for a postgraduate degree in autism and am myself neurodiverse. Here’s what I, and research, has to say.
Before I get into it, let’s take a look at current responses on social media:
- She’s failed to cast a an autistic girl as an autistic girl, with a untrustworthy and weak excuse for this.
- Maddie’s depiction of Music is a childish and trope-based representation of a non-verbal autistic person.
- Sia’s clearly misunderstands autistic individual’s preferred use of language.
- Sia consults with the infamous Autism Speaks charity and fails to see it isn’t ok to do so. (and the fact it takes ‘minimal research’ to know this).
- Before we even see the film, Sia dismisses autistic voices and insults autistic people.
From here, it is hard to see a positive outcome from this film in regards to challenging and changing societal perceptions and beliefs.
So, I did some research.
Sia claims to have done 3 years of research prior to filming. A resounding message in media research is that:
What someone with Sia’s level of influence puts out into the world creates real, life-changing meaning for people. From non-disabled peoples’ inner thoughts/beliefs to the opportunities disabled people are or are not allowed access to.
With this in mind, here are my hope’s for Sia’s Music:
Treatment of disabled people as adults
In a study analysing 8 films that include people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD), professionals found that in all cases the people with IDD were depicted as childish in numerous and exaggerated ways.
My hope for Sia’s ‘Music’ is that we see a teenage autistic girl (not a toddler in a teenagers’ body) participating and communicating in realistic and day-to-day ways. This does not mean exaggerated scenes of her dancing ‘autistically’ through public water fountains with profond voice-overs and ‘normal’ people looking on, shocked.
It means depicting Music as someone who experiences all aspects of her life (‘normal’ and ‘exceptional’) as someone who is developing into an adult and coming to terms with a change in guardianship.
I would be a lot more interested in seeing how Music responds to coming into her sister’s care, than how Zu ‘copes’ with her disabled sister. This would make a refreshing change of perspective from the overdone trope of “capable person learns to ‘deal with’ babyish autistic relative”.
Show people that disabled people aren’t the ‘others’
I hope to see a change in others’ viewing of people with disabilities.
In films, non-disabled onlookers reactions to people with disabilities is usually negative or exaggerated. If we follow the (well-researched) philosophy that people’s actions and beliefs surrounding labelled groups are highly influenced by media, surely a subversion of this would begin changing how people treat individuals with disabilities.
In real-life, people mostly don’t gawk and whisper about people with disabilities acting differently in public, but films constantly repeat, perpetuate and thus label this as normal and acceptable.
It would be great to see a film where this over-the-top reaction of non-disabled onlookers isn’t included. This may, instead, suggest to people that differences in behaviour are ‘normal’, acceptable and to be respected.
Ask non-disabled people to take some responsibility
Hopefully, Sia knows something about recent autism research and has looked into Milton’s ‘double empathy problem’.
This is the, well-researched and tested, notion that neurotypical people struggle just as much as neurodiverse people when interacting with a different neurotype. Two neurodiverse people understand one another just as easily as two neurotypical people do, and both sides struggle equally when there is a neurotypical and a neurodiverse involved in an interaction together.
This research is a prime example that autism is not the autisic person’s disability, but that it is the environment that is disabling.
Sadly, with Sia supposedly just removing the autistic actor to replace her with Maddy, I get the feeling she isn’t all on board with taking responsibility.
Unfortunately for Sia, she has managed to ignore the growing and developing online autistic community. This is a major downfall, and something that would have taken moments of research to interact with.
My only hope is that, if this film is going to be as painfully stereotypical as we all expect, it is just that. Stereotypical, pointless and meaningless. If this film tries to dig too deep into the public’s belief system, we may have the bigger problem on our hands of non-disabled people treating autistic people like poor, weird, alien babies… not exactly a progression from 1960s autism research or practice.