Sia says decision to cast Maddie Ziegler over autistic actor in her new film was ‘nepotism’

Singer received criticism for choosing to cast an actor who is not on the autism spectrum for her film about an autistic teen

Annabel Nugent
Monday 04 January 2021 08:37 GMT
Music (2021 film) trailer

Sia has said that her decision to cast Maddie Ziegler in her film Music was “nepotism”.

In November last year, the singer released the first trailer for her directorial debut titled Music, a drama about a young girl with autism (Ziegler) who is raised by her drug-dealing older sister (played by Kate Hudson).

The trailer was swiftly met with criticism by viewers who accused the artist of ableism in her choice to cast Ziegler, who is a regular collaborator of Sia's),over a performer on the autism spectrum.

Speaking on the Australian TV show The Sunday Project, Sia has again addressed the controversy surrounding the casting decision.

“I realised it wasn’t ableism,” she said. “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.”

11-year-old Ziegler in Sia’s 2014 hit ‘Chandelier’ 

Ziegler – who first found fame aged eight on the hit US reality show Dance Moms – has collaborated with the musician on a number of projects. The dancer, who is now 18 years old, has appeared in multiple music videos for Sia, including for hits “Chandelier” and “Elastic Heart”.

The 45-year-old said that she considered herself to be Ziegler’s “bonus mum”.

Sia went on to reveal that on the first day of filming Music, Ziegler had expressed concern that viewers would think she was “making fun” of autistic people. 

“I bold-facedly said, ‘I won’t let that happen,’” said the singer.

She added: “Last week I realised I couldn’t really protect her from that, which I thought I could. We sent [the movie] off to the Child Mind Instiute and she received 100 per cent as performance accuracy. I realise that there are some things I can’t protect her from as much as I try.”

The Australian musician had initially responded to the backlash in November, claiming that critics of her new film have “no f***ing idea”.

In a Twitter post addressing the controversy, she wrote: “Grrrrrrrrrr. F***ity f*** why don’t you watch my film before you judge it? FURY.”

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Sia had also previously said that prior to casting Ziegler in the role, she had tried to work with an autistic actor but claimed they had “found it unpleasant and stressful”.

When an autistic actor replied to her saying that they could have managed the role, Sia responded: “Maybe you’re just a bad actor.”

The singer later said that she regrets her response, stating that she “should have just shut up”.  

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