Ever since the film Music was announced by its director, Sia, the autistic community was outraged because of its portrayal of a nonspeaking autistic girl by a neurotypical actor, Maddie Ziegler. In response to the backlash, Sia cursed at and insulted her critics, later deleting her tweets entirely. However, another controversy has arose, in which leaked scenes from the film showcase the titular character, Music, having a meltdown and being held down by a prone restraint.
According to Disability Rights Center of Kansas, “When restraint is done in a face up (“supine”) or face down (“prone”) position, it restricts breathing and can turn deadly.” The fact that a mainstream film displays such an act can inadvertently cause a caregiver to re-enact it, causing disastrous consequences for the person being restrained.
The advocacy groups CommunicationFIRST, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, and the Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint have unveiled a press release in response to the controversial scene. According to the press release, Sia’s production team engaged with CommunicationFIRST regarding the restraint scenes, in which the latter requested to have them removed after autistic people were invited to screen the film and provide feedback.
“Music’s restraint scenes will undoubtedly cause harm to autistic people. Because many autistic people have experienced restraint, some will be traumatized by watching the film. The movie also irresponsibly suggests that people experiencing meltdowns should be restrained, which could not be further from the truth,” Tauna Szymanski, Executive Director of CommunicationFIRST, said. “By not removing the restraint scenes or even providing a warning, those behind the movie are promoting a traumatizing and potentially deadly form of restraint that is illegal in over 30 US states. We provided several concrete recommendations aimed at protecting people who may be imperiled by this film. We are saddened that the MUSIC team does not appear willing to take even the most basic precautions to mitigate the likely harm and deep trauma the movie may cause many nonspeaking and autistic people.”
Zoe Gross, Director of Advocacy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, also weighed in on the matter, stating “Music doesn’t just promote harmful stereotypes about autistic people – it shows restraints that have killed members of our community as necessary and loving acts.”
In response, CommunicationFIRST will be releasing a short film later this month featuring nonspeaking autistic people in the public eye, aiming to portray them in a humanizing light, countering the release of Music.
Despite the massive controversies, it was announced this morning that Music is being nominated for best picture (musical or comedy) and best actress (for Kate Hudson) in the Golden Globes. The film has received the nominations despite having a 29 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Music is scheduled to release in the U.S. on February 10, 2021.