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Sia’s complaints show she’s learned nothing about autism

Whenever autistic people raise objections to poor treatment, we are seen as bullies. Even with a celebrity

Eric Garcia
Friday 21 January 2022 14:19
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It’s been almost a year since Sia released her trash movie Music to furious uproar from autistic people, myself included, and now, the Australian pop star is addressing the most important controversy of the film. No, she is not addressing the absolutely dreadful portrayal wherein she neglected to cast an autistic actress in favor of Maddie Ziegler, who gave a performance equivalent to autistic minstrelsy, as autistic writer Matthew Rozsa said, that made me recoil not only in anger but also in embarrassment for Ziegler. Nor did she attempt to make amends for her outright Trump-ian tweets where she told one autistic person “maybe you’re just a bad actor,” or the fact she portrayed an incredibly harmful method of restraint that kills autistic people.

No, rather, after initially saying she had “listened to the wrong people and that is my responsibility,” Sia and her good friend, self-proclaimed D-list celebrity with an F-list sense of humor Kathy Griffin, are here to address how Sia’s poor precious feelings were hurt by autistic people and how they sent her into a depressive spell. Sia told The New York Times in a profile of Griffin that the uproar by disability rights and autistic activists caused her to go to rehab.

“I was suicidal and relapsed and went to rehab,” Sia told the Times. As an autistic person who has dealt with depression, addiction and relapse, my heart certainly goes out to Sia and any threats to her are unjustified.

But nowhere has Sia detailed an attempt to correct the egregious errors that plagued not just Music, but her promotion of the film. And at the same time, Griffin’s friendship is seen as the antidote to those big bad autistic meanies trying to steamroll poor defenceless Sia on our choo-choo trains and that all that was needed to ameliorate her hurt feelings was a girl’s night on the town with someone who lost all credibility when she took a picture with a decapitated Donald Trump head.

This is a fundamentally dishonest and disingenuous adventure that seeks to make Sia, a celebrity with limitless fame and an ungodly amount of money, into a victim by a historically marginalized community. The autistic community’s criticism of Sia was not about her as a person but rather a plea for her to recognize her power as a celebrity and the fact she had the ability to make a movie about autism and instead of listening to autistic people’s critiques, she simply chose to disregard those requests.

Much of this is due to the fact that society still either outright hates when autistic people push back on negative portrayals of them or do not expect autistic people to voice their concerns. Rather, they expect autistic people to either never respond and be happy with neurotypical people’s benevolent ableism, or they don’t think they will ever voice concerns.

That is why  autistic people’s critiques of parents’ demeaning portrayals of autism are framed in the media as a “war” on daytime television rather than autistic people not tolerating autistic people having their privacy violated. It’s why parents call autistic people “murder hornets” when we object to a mother saying she wants to have power of attorney so that she can give her son a vasectomy.

In the same way, Sia, who called her movie a “love letter” to autistic people, did not expect autistic people to say her movie was not only an infantilizing pile of dribble, but also depicts a horrific use of restraint that killed autistic people and is shown as “crushing her with my love,” as Leslie Odom Jr. calls it in the movie. Hollywood and society writ large are still utterly ignorant of the fact that autistic people are also consumers of pop culture and don’t want a deadly practice to be normalised.

In response to some of my tweets about Sia’s pity party, Griffin responded by saying Sia received “vicious attacks she received were because of kind of sexism, ageism and misogyny that you may be displaying yourself,” when almost none of the criticism from autistic people I heard (and I saw and heard plenty) was about the negative portrayals of autism. She then deflected to say that “many male actors/directors who’ve portrayed artistic characters through their own lenses. They won awards,” when if she knew anything about me, she’d know I hate portrayals of autism by neurotypical men ranging from Rain Man to Atypical specifically and have dragged them through the mud too.

At its core, Hollywood, the press and plenty of other would-be condescending neurotypical creators are just beginning to understand that when autistic people (and any disabled people) say “nothing about us without us,” we’re not kidding. Until then, Sia and Griffin can enjoy as many cheap thrills as they like.

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