SIA, HER NEW FILM AND THE BACKLASH FROM THE AUTISM COMMUNITY
Today I woke up to the disappointing news that the singer and now turned film maker, script writer, director Sia, had sparked backlash over her decision to cast a non-Autistic actress in the role of ‘Music’ an Autistic character who is also non-verbal which Maddie isn’t and which just adds insult to me and my Autism community.
Here’s the film’s trailer
So, imagine Sia’s surprise when she logged into Twitter and proudly tweeted out her exciting news, I’m sure as she pressed the tweet button she fell back and waited to bask in the glory and accolades that her new film would surely bring her.
She probably imagined taking phone calls from Spielberg or Lucas to work on some exciting new film projects or she imagined herself standing at the Academy awards thanking those that helped her to make this film and bring it to the small screen.
So, she couldn’t have foreseen (I personally think that she did) the inherit backlash in not casting an Autistic actress in the lead role.
Now for clarity I should point out here that she had an Autistic actress that she was working with, but it hadn’t worked out and she had resorted to using Maddie Ziegler a dancer she had used in many of her music videos.
Commenting on why Sia recast the previous actress she said
“She found it unpleasant and stressful,” Sia said of the young girl on the spectrum.
The backlash was swift and brutal.
And I am not shocked or surprised.
I’m not shocked that Sia made this unprecedented move, she clearly had no plan on place with the girl, her family, or her support worker to ensure that she could perform in this movie.
I’ve written extensive articles on the importance of having and hearing an Autistic voice on TV or in film but yet again it feels like those within the world of TV and film are ignoring me and my community.
If we cannot even get Autistic actors onto the TV or movie screens, then how are these shows being made?
Its blatant discrimination, none of those people that write for these shows can have any idea of what it’s like to live my life on a day to day basis, how I communicate with others, what triggers I have, what’s going to cause me to have a meltdown, because they’re non-Autistic.
Now they can read and chat with as many Autistic organisations as they like, but the one thing that they simply cannot replicate is my authentic Autistic voice which is what is constantly missing from any of these actors’ performances.
There is nothing more offensive than seeing what I call tick box television. By tick box television I mean that at the network pitch meeting, the creator has just announced that a disabled character will be leading this drama/comedy, this character will be the one whose world we will explore, we’ll be introduced to their character traits, and it’ll be all neatly wrapped up in a bow and the commissioning person at the network ticks a box and proudly beams away having meet the networks disability criteria for the year.
Well, news flash you haven’t. Sorry to burst your bubble their Chad (this will be his name for the purposes of this article) but what you’ve done is severely pissed of an entire community of people.
You’ll cast a non-Autistic actor/actress in the role, none of the writing staff will be Autistic, nor will any of the crew, and all you’ve actually done is to make a disability show from a non-disability person’s perspective. Which is frankly a fucking insult.
I’m not asking for a lot here, I’m asking to see a more accurate representation of me and my Autism on screen, I’m asking that we can be more involved in the creative process, I’m asking that we don’t simply tick boxes to get a show onto a network.
You may have gotten down to this section of the piece and wonder why does it matter?
It matters because for people not living with a disability or who don’t have a close connection with someone who is, the consequences may be hard to see. But for me and those within the disability community, it leaves us feeling we are invisible.
It matters because I have a story to tell and I want my voice to be heard and not see a second-hand version of my or that of someone from my Autism communities story on screen.
It matters because having diversity on screen benefits the authenticity of a production and the chances of a positive response from audiences. We are not a one-size-fits-all society, we are all different and diverse, and that should be represented and celebrated in what we see on screen.
It matters because I know what a difference that would have made to me growing up and trying to navigate my way in this world living with Autism if there had been more positive depictions of people with disability in the media.
I wouldn’t have struggled so much with my self-worth or confidence and would have had a range of visible role models to whom I could relate and even aspire to be.
We all have a story to tell. What people with disabilities need now is the opportunity to tell them. We need access to the necessary platforms to provide insights into our diverse disability community, educating, informing and enriching the audience with our different experiences.
We need greater opportunities for disabled writers to share their personal experience of living with a disability and the many challenges that they face in today’s society. And we need these stories to be authentic by having disabled people tell them.
From the executives, there needs to be a greater level of comfort and confidence around incorporating diversity and disability into scripts for TV shows and movies.
Diversity has the potential to generate connection and empathy and can also help shift perceptions of “otherness’” within the Australian disability community.
Movies and television content all have the capacity to create emotional connections, educate and highlight important views and opinions. It reflects our sense of who we are as a society and who we might be. We now need it to become a place which allows disabled people the chance to tell their stories and for our voices to be heard.
I’ll leave the last word to hearing impaired actress Marlee Matlin
Carry On The Conversation
What are your thoughts on this?
Thank you for reading and I will see you next time for more thoughts from across the spectrum.