Sia has taken Maddie Ziegler under her wing, but is that a good thing? Steven SOUNDS OFF on Sia, her new film Music, and her lack of awareness and respect for people with disabilities. By sharing a personal reflection on his time in special education, we learn why this hits so close to home and why Sia’s behavior cannot be tolerated.
Before I get into this I want to make absolutely clear: This is NOT a review of Sia’s disaster of a directorial debut “Music”. I have not watched the film. I do not plan to watch the film and this is an opinion piece on the issues surrounding the film and – more specifically – the singer’s troublesome history. This film should have never reached release. There were enough issues at the first announcement of development for it to never see the light of day – long before the current backlash it’s facing on the dangerous depictions of restraint seen in the film (that Sia casually blames on listening “to the wrong people” while apologizing for things that have long been finalized). *cue eye roll*
You see, Sia, an artist who has made a name for herself by simply being just that – herself – all while inspiring and encouraging individuality and freedom of expression has seemingly become absolutely encapsulated in her belief that she’s more qualified to speak for minority groups, including those that she’s not a part of, than even the minorities themselves. It’s the classic white knight prick taking offense for the black guy who was never offended – except that’s a much broader discussion that goes a lot deeper that we’ll have to save for another day.
This, however, feels fairly straight-forward while remaining just as inexcusable – and comparable in its disillusionment of privilege. For those who don’t know, Sia, after watching the disgraced reality competition “Dance Moms” (which had a LOT wrong with it, yet we all seem to acknowledge that much) back in 2014, reached out to one of the young contestants via Twitter: then 11-year-old Maddie Ziegler. Seemingly within moments, Ziegler’s life was changed forever as she was cast in Sia’s “Chandelier” music video.
If you listen to one thing Sia has said about her relationship with Ziegler, it’s enough to raise eyebrows. If you listen to everything Sia has said about her relationship with Zieger, it’s extremely concerning. An artist known for refusing to show her face in an effort to “control her image”, while also noting that she never wanted to be famous, had no problem with putting a pre-teen girl in every bit of spotlight she possibly could: Inviting her to perform on tour, including her in every subsequent music video and casting her as the lead role in her very first film – all while simultaneously spinning that “as soon as I met Maddie, I felt this extreme desire to protect her and I think that it was part of my own healing.”
Ziegler refers to the singer as her “second mom”, admitting that she’s seen more of Sia than her own family. I haven’t even begun to get into the film we’re discussing because there are enough issues right here to raise some questions, so, let’s go ahead and ask ‘em!
If Sia is so aware of the horrors that can come with fame – WHY is she excusing putting an adolescent that she supposedly cares so much about in the exact situation that she wanted to avoid herself?
Besides the money, fame, and lifestyle that Sia provides for Maddie – WHAT connection does Maddie feel for Sia (if any)?
If Sia is referencing her own “healing” in the significance of her relationship with Maddie, that implies that there was some sort of hurt to begin with…HOW is Sia’s personal struggles relevant to Maddie’s well-being whatsoever?
Spoiler: it’s not.
Now, I’d like to talk about the initial casting attempt that Sia claims to have gone through before settling with Ziegler, yet again. Sia admits that she “tried working with a beautiful young girl nonverbal on the spectrum” but the character she needed to convey was just too demanding for the talent in question. So, in response to the backlash of the disrespectful representation of the disabled community, the only excuse Sia can muster is, basically, “well, it was too hard, but I did try!”
After criticism began on her decision to fall back with the casting of Ziegler, Sia responded to critics on Twitter by saying “The movie is both a love letter to caregivers and to the autism community, I have my own unique view of the community, and felt it is underrepresented and compelled to make it. If that makes me a shit I’m a shit, but my intentions are awesome.” Translation: “I don’t care what any of you say because my vision is great and my own perception is superior to anything else that I could possibly learn from any of you.”
Alternate translation: “I’m a shit.”
“Music” is a senseless and unneeded attempt to showcase and convey what Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz already nailed in their own directorial debut, “The Peanut Butter Falcon” in 2019. The official synopsis for the film reads “After running away from a residential nursing home to pursue his dream of becoming a pro wrestler, a man who has Down syndrome befriends an outlaw who becomes his coach and ally.”
Meanwhile, “Music” has the following to say: “Zu is newly sober when she receives news that she is to become the sole guardian of her half-sister named Music, a young girl on the autism spectrum. The film explores two of Sia’s favorite themes: finding your voice and creating family.” So, it’s a very similar concept, with an extra sentence of justification to essentially say “it’s okay that I went about it all wrong because this is what I was going for”. But, we’ve learned too many times already that what we’re going for doesn’t matter a bit if it’s not what we actually DO.
In the case of “The Peanut Butter Falcon”, Zach Gottsagen (who won the Rising Star Award at Palm Springs International Film Festival for the role) stole the hearts of the cast and audience alike – after being told he’d never walk or talk at the time of his birth due to Down syndrome. Gottsagen also considers his co-star Shia Labeouf a good friend with Shia stating, “This is the least judgmental friend that I have, the most supportive, the most consistent.” The story is so beautiful, in large part, because the story is true to an extent, even for the actors involved. Sia instead chose to give up and rely once again on her muse, despite a sea of talent within the disabled community. Instead of trying harder or learning more or even casting Ziegler as the more Shia-type role in the film, Sia closed her eyes and covered her ears even more.
Coming from a background as not only a special education educator for 5+ years, I also survived my own bout of intense childhood trauma and was considered special ed for the duration of my time in school. I have now worked extensively alongside some of the brightest, most creative, and talented individuals I’ve ever been around and I know first-hand how absolutely ridiculous it is to dismiss the quality, ability, and potential of the disabled community and beyond.
I also know first-hand how it feels to be restricted and dismissed and to have your potential capped at nothing, because of the superior, lazy, and downright disrespectful attitudes and mindsets of those in front of me. The way Sia handled all of this even offends me personally, but not as much as it angers me alongside all of the other countless souls that she’s overlooked, ignored, and given up on.
Sia is not just tone-deaf, she’s absolutely self-absorbed and blatantly/intentionally blind. This has been evident for a while, especially considering her unhealthy and nonsensical relationship with a young child who serves as her muse. A young child who she has forced into the spotlight and used as her own face. A young child that she has propped up on this pedestal while endangering her well-being and framing it as adoration and love. A young child who, upon the very first rehearsal for her very first film, broke down in tears because she “didn’t want anyone to think she was making fun of them”. Yet, here we are, a week into the official release of “Music” and the backlash has only grown and the disrespect has only become more glaring in the finished product.
Sia has now offered a bit more acknowledgment to the massive criticisms that began around November of last year, but only after the announcement that “Music” has earned a nomination for best picture in the musical or comedy category at the Golden Globes. She claimed in a recent interview on SiriusXM’s Volume Channel that she has learned her lesson and that “I have to admit to being ableist to a degree; I’m not proud of it.” Still, I find myself left with more disgust than ever before.
If Sia really felt compelled to act as a shining light for the disabled community, the first step probably should have been to hear them, rather than tune them out in her own self-pride. If Sia really wanted to heal her wounds, she probably should have done so as an adult herself, rather than dragging a minor with her to serve as her face and absorb the misguided brunt of her poor decision-making. In the end, as the month’s pass and “Music” becomes an infamous memory of long ago, one glaring issue that has been apparent for years now will remain: Maddie Ziegler is a victim of Sia’s personal problems and that needs to be addressed and spoken on.
At 45-years-old, having been an inspiration for many in her 30+ year career, Sia cannot hide behind her fake bangs and gloat from within the drenching of her own self-righteousness any longer. She needs to grow up, shut up and LISTEN. I think we have all grown tired of her condescending, arrogant, blatantly disrespectful voice.