After the trailer for the movie dropped on Thursday, November 19, Twitter users called out the singer, 44, for not hiring a person with autism for the role. “This is totally unacceptable and there are no excuses, you should know better than to allow able bodied & neurotypical to represent the disabled community,” one person tweeted on Friday, November 20. “It’s incredibly offensive as is the infantalisation of the character. Sickened. And not even captioned. Don’t release this.”
Sia made several attempts to explain why she offered Zieger, 18, the part, which is based on the songstress’ friend. “I actually tried working with a a [sic] beautiful young girl non verbal on the spectrum and she found it unpleasant and stressful,” she replied on Friday. “So that’s why I cast Maddie.”
In another tweet, the Grammy nominee claimed that the “character was pretty low functioning and after attempting a few actors on the spectrum they suggested I use Maddie.” She added that she “spent three f—king years researching” the project, which is why she was “so f—king bummed” by the criticism.
“I cast thirteen neuroatypical people, three trans folk, and not as f—king prostitutes or drug addicts but as doctors, nurses and singers,” she wrote. “F—king sad nobody’s even seen the dang movie. My heart has always been in the right place.”
Sia then turned more aggressive in her responses, telling one autistic actor who claimed to be willing to step in “on short notice” to take over the role, “Maybe you’re just a bad actor.” At one point, she voiced her frustration openly: “Grrrrrrrrrr. F—kity f—k why don’t you watch my film before you judge it? FURY.”
The “Chandelier” singer cowrote and directed Music, which also stars Kate Hudson and Leslie Odom Jr. An album of the same name will be released along with the film in February.
Ziegler has yet to respond to the backlash. The Dance Moms alum frequently collaborates with Sia, having starred in several of her music videos and toured with her.