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DISABLED ACTIVISTS ARE OUTRAGED: Sia’s new film is another backwards step for the entertainment industry – sidelining disabled people, telling our stories without us and dismissing disabled actors 

On 19th November, pop-star Sia released the trailer for her directorial debut, ‘Music’. The film stars Maddie Ziegler as the autistic lead character. The announcement has generated outrage from much of the disability community, with many disabled people denouncing the casting of a non-autistic actor in the lead role, accusing Ziegler of ‘cripping up’ and mocking them. 

Tweets from disabled twitter users reacting to the trailer: 

The Disability Union has published the following statement in response to these events: 

“It is essential to our aims that disabled people’s voices are at the heart of the struggle for our representation and liberation. We are incredibly disappointed to see that, once again, disabled people have been completely sidelined in the entertainment industry. The disability community has been shouting ‘nothing about us without us’ for decades and, despite gestures of solidarity, we are evidently still ignored.  

As disabled people, we are not here for you to take pity on or to make you feel better. We are not inspiration-porn. We are people who can represent ourselves and tell our own stories. 

We agree with presenter Adam Pearson and broadcaster Mik Scarlet, amongst many others, that an autistic actor should have been cast in this role. Disabled activists have long argued that disabled actors should get more opportunities in entertainment to portray the stories of people in their community in an accurate light. Many believe this is the best way to advance the representation of disabled people and combat the widespread stigma and confusion towards disability. 

Sia’s ignorant response has been doubly-insulting and made the controversy far worse. When faced with legitimate criticism from a visibly upset community, her response has been one of arrogance and dismissal. She has wholly refused to learn from her mistakes and has presented a swathe of half-baked excuses for her failure to consider and listen to our community.” 

Sia’s excuses: 

https://twitter.com/Sia/status/1329723656768024577 – defending ‘special abilities’ 

https://twitter.com/Sia/status/1329722676387192834 – defending ‘special abilities’ and dismissing concerns 

https://twitter.com/Sia/status/1329724086646411265 – dismissing disabled people 

https://twitter.com/Sia/status/1329736604819316737 – defending cast 

https://twitter.com/Sia/status/1329721477025947648 – considered one autistic person and declined to make the filming environment accessible so opted to cast Maddie instead 

https://twitter.com/Sia/status/1329735312126455814 – ‘That was my call.’ No regret for sidelining disabled people 

https://twitter.com/Sia/status/1329738992519147521 ‘Maybe you’re just a bad actor’ horrible to autistic actor 

https://twitter.com/Sia/status/1329741838836772868 Autism Speaks are a hate group that presents autism as a disease to be cured and are reviled by much of the disability and  medical communities 

The language of the press release has come under heavy fire as well, with disabled people showing disgust at the outdated and exclusionary verbiage, like ‘special needs’ and ‘differently abled’ being used to describe disabled people by the studio. Initially, several media outlets republished these terms from the press release uncritically, only reaffirming suspicions that disabled representation in the media has a long way to go. 

from https://jezebel.com/maddie-ziegler-is-playing-a-special-needs-character-in-1845713910?utm_campaign=Jezebel&utm_content=1605804282&utm_medium=SocialMarketing&utm_source=twitter 

from https://chicago.suntimes.com/movies-and-tv/2020/10/29/21539415/sia-directorial-debut-feature-film-music-maddie-ziegler-kate-hudson-leslie-odom-jr 

About The Disability Union: The ambition of The Disability Union is to build a truly inclusive world. They believe that inclusion is a human right, which is why they work day in, day out to protect and enhance the lives of disabled people across the United Kingdom. 

‘The union is the idea of disabled campaigner George Baker, whose ambition is to create “the first democratic and campaigning union which fights for disabled people in the workplace, in the social care system and in society at large” ’ – John Pring (Disability News Service).   

To learn more about The Disability Union, click here

To see our previous appearances in the media, click here