The most controversial scene in Sia’s new movie Music is where Zu, played by Kate Hudson, restrains her half-sister Music, played by Maddie Ziegler face down (prone) in the middle of a park. The moments leading up to the restraint show Music hitting herself and making vocalizations as if going into a meltdown. If you have the stomach for it, you can watch the clip here.
Although at the time of this writing Sia has claimed that the restraint scenes will be cut from future versions of the film.
Having lived in residential placement since I was 15 years old, I have been through hundreds of prone restraints in my life. They are often violent, especially the takedown where staff would slam me face first onto a mat or the bare floor, with all their weight landing on top of me. Then there is the actual hold, in which some of mine lasted for thirty minutes or more. Staff would often lay their entire body weight across my back, making breathing very difficult. Sometimes I started seeing black because I could not get enough air. And if I complained I could not breathe, the staff response would be “if you can talk, you can breathe.”
I kid you not. So I can see why this is the most blatant offense in the movie. That in 2021 this is depicted as acceptable treatment of any person is a big problem. Children and adults are dying because of these prone restraints.
While I was only able to see a short clip of this scene (The movie will not be released in the U.S. until February12th) It was frightening. It shows Music’s older sister Zu sitting on her back as she flails around. Then, as if to add insult to injury, Zu complains that Music is “hitting her.”
Um…I’m sorry, did you forget you are sitting on top of another human who cannot even verbalize in words if you are hurting her or not? Or if she can breathe?
Nope. It’s all about the neurotypical person and their feelings.
Now I understand that there are times when a person may become so dangerous to themselves or others, that they must be contained somehow. And honestly, I don’t think society has yet found or maybe accepted a way to do that without traumatizing and/or injuring that person. But prone restraint is certainly not the way.
But besides the restraint scenes, I have another issue with this movie- The actress who plays Music, Maddie Ziegler, has never identified as being on the autism spectrum. From watching the trailer, it looks as if the writer or director took out the DSM 5 and checked off each symptom on the list. Or maybe they did a Google search and landed on the Autism Speaks page? ←Sarcasm
I don’t know, but it was bad. Not every autistic person has every symptom or trait of autism. We are all so different. If they had hired an actually autistic actress for the role and lost the restraint scenes, this could have possibly been a beautiful movie filled with nuance and authenticity.
But instead it is very insulting, and Ziegler’s performance feels like mockery. It honestly feels as if a neurotypical person is making fun of someone on the spectrum.
I’m not saying that Ziegler or this movie was intentionally trying to make fun of autistic individuals. I think Sia was trying to make a movie with diverse characters. But she went about it the wrong way. There are so many neurodivergent and disabled actors looking for work.
I actually belong to a Facebook group called Lights! Camera! Access! Which is dedicated to finding work and sharing information for disabled actors, writers, directors, editors, musicians and any other positions in the entertainment business. There are so many resources now. This needs to become common knowledge in the industry and society as a whole. That if you are doing something in the name of a disability, you need to include people who actually have that disability.
I don’t think I will watch Music when it makes its U.S. debut. I don’t want to support it with my money, and I think it would upset me greatly to watch the depictions of restraint and autism in general. Part of me wants to watch so that I can really give it a proper review, but I don’t think I can stomach this one.
I hope Sia doesn’t give up. She is incredibly creative and talented. My hope for her is that she learns from this, and goes on to make music, videos and movies that are authentic to the characters she wants to portray.
I’m Jennifer Msumba. Autistic musician, writer and filmmaker. Growing up, I never saw myself portrayed on T.V. Someday I hope to make my own movies with an array of diverse characters speaking in their own voices. That would make me really happy.