Sia Responded Again To Criticism Of Her Decision To Cast Maddie Ziegler As An Autistic Character

    "I realised it wasn't ableism — I mean, it is ableism, I guess, as well — but it's actually nepotism, because I can't do a project without her."

    Sia is once again defending her decision to cast Maddie Ziegler as an autistic character in her new movie Music, admitting it "is ableism" but she "can't do a project without her."

    Dimitrios Kambouris / Getty Images

    The "Chandelier" singer found herself at the centre of some controversy back in November when the film's trailer was released showing Ziegler in the title role as a nonverbal autistic girl.

    Landay Entertainment / youtube.com

    It's safe to say the trailer was met with criticism, with people calling Ziegler's casting "unacceptable" and "disappointing" and accusing Sia of excluding actual autistic people from telling their own stories.

    Hollywood strikes again with another film where non-disabled actors play disabled roles. Having a neurotypical play an autistic person is offensive enough; rolling this trailer out at the start of #DisabilityHistoryMonth is a kick in the bloody teeth. No captions, either. https://t.co/VJOnVUv9Mz

    Twitter: @LiamODellUK

    @Sia @leslieodomjr @maddieziegler This is totally unacceptable and there are no excuses, you should know better than to allow able bodied & neurotypical to represent the disabled community. It's incredibly offensive as is the infantalisation of the character. Sickened. And not even captioned. Don't release this.

    Twitter: @JordanaGol

    @Sia @leslieodomjr @maddieziegler It’s a mighty shame that someone with such a colossal platform is using it to exclude disabled and neuro diverse actors from their own narratives. I’ve been a long time fan of your work, so this is really disappointing.

    Twitter: @TomeLevi

    At the time, Sia attempted to defend herself, saying she had "tried working with a beautiful young girl nonverbal on the spectrum" and assuring her heart "has always been in the right place."

    @JordanaGol @leslieodomjr @maddieziegler I actually tried working with a a beautiful young girl non verbal on the spectrum and she found it unpleasant and stressful. So that’s why I cast Maddie.

    Twitter: @Sia

    @TomeLevi @leslieodomjr @maddieziegler I cast thirteen neuroatypical people, three trans folk, and not as fucking prostitutes or drug addicts but s as doctors, nurses and singers. Fucking sad nobody’s even seen the dang movie. My heart has always been in the right place.

    Twitter: @Sia

    However, her defences were also met with criticism — not only for the way she spoke about sex workers and people living with drug addiction, but for the tone she used to respond to autistic people who were expressing their own valid concerns.

    "Several autistic actors, myself included, responded to these tweets," one Twitter user wrote. "We all said we could have acted in it on short notice. These excuses are just that — excuses. The fact of the matter is zero effort was made to include anyone who is actually autistic."

    To which Sia responded: "Maybe you're just a bad actor."

    Now Sia has spoken further about the backlash, admitting during an interview on Australian talk show The Project this weekend that her decision to cast Ziegler was "ableism."

    Network 10 / youtube.com

    "I realised it wasn't ableism — I mean, it is ableism, I guess, as well — but it's actually nepotism, because I can't do a project without her," Sia told the host. "I don't want to."

    Axelle / FilmMagic

    The pair first worked together on the 2014 music videos for "Chandelier," "Elastic Heart," and "Big Girls Cry," and have been frequent collaborators ever since.

    "I wouldn't make art if it didn't include her," Sia said on The Project.

    She went on to reveal that the 18-year-old had expressed concerns over playing an autistic character when she was cast, saying she was "really scared" and "cried on the first day of rehearsals."

    Kevin Mazur / Getty Images

    "She just said, 'I don't want anyone to think I'm making fun of them,'" Sia explained. "And I bald-facedly said, 'I won't let that happen.'"

    Watch Sia's full interview on The Project here.

    Ellie Bate is a celebrity reporter and talent coordinator at BuzzFeed UK and is based in London.

    Contact Ellie Bate at eleanor.bate@buzzfeed.com.

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