The Golden Globes got a few things right with its 2021 slate of nominees, like recognizing a record three female filmmakers in the Best Director category and giving nods to the acting talents from Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. However, the awards are not without controversy, as the divisive directorial debut from Sia, Music, also received a pair of high-profile nominations.
Surprisingly, the film is up for Best Picture — Musical or Comedy, where it’s competing against Borat, Hamilton, Palm Springs, and (somehow) The Prom. While the Globes avoided the worst possible controversy by ignoring Maddie Ziegler’s portrayal of an autistic girl, they did give a nod to Kate Hudson for her savior role as Zu, Ziegler’s character’s sister/caretaker.
Music stirred controversy as soon as its first trailer dropped, with many in the autistic community criticizing Sia for casting a neuronormative actress (Ziegler) as the autistic title character, Music. The portrayal has sparked cries of ableism and accusations of “cripping up,” a term used when actors “put on” disabilities. Making matters worse, Sia apparently partnered with the group Autism Speaks, a controversial group known for questionable finances and “autism as disease” rhetoric.
Despite calls from autism activists to cancel the movie’s premiere and intense Internet backlash, Sia has only doubled down on her nepotistic decision to cast Ziegler. In a series of since-deleted tweets, the singer/filmmaker argued that Autism Speaks was only brought on after the film’s completion, stating that she consulted with numerous neuroatypical individuals during production. She also pointed out that she “cast thirteen neuroatypical people, three trans folk, and not as fucking prostitutes or drug addicts but as doctors, nurses and singers” in the film.
Sia also has claimed that she “tried working with a beautiful young girl non verbal on the spectrum” in the part of Music, but that the actress “found it unpleasant and stressful.”
Still, even after seeing the movie, many have criticized Music for its inauthentic and potentially damaging portrayal of autism. That includes one particular scene where Leslie Odom Jr’s Ebo character lays on top of Music during a meltdown, exclaiming, “I’m crushing her with my love.” In a review for The Guardian, Australian culture critic (and actual autistic individual) Clem Bastow noted,
“In reality, the use of prone or supine restraint has killed dozens of children – often ones on the Autism spectrum – and injured many more in US schools, juvenile justice settings and psychiatric facilities. Just last year, autistic boy Eric Parsa died when sheriff’s deputies allegedly placed him in prone restraint, taking turns sitting on him, for nine minutes. Eric’s ‘crime’: experiencing a meltdown in public.”
It seems unlikely Music will take home trophies in either of its categories. (Hudson is up against stiff competition from Maria Bakalova for Borat, Michelle Pfeiffer for French Exit, Anya Taylor-Joy for Emma., and Rosamund Pike for I Care A Lot.) However, the very fact that the Golden Globes even chose to recognize it on such a prestigious stage is drawing the concerned ire from the autistic community. Find some Twitter responses to the nominations below.
To every #ActuallyAutistic person who is rightly devastated to see #Sia"s 'Music' nominated for a Golden Globe, I am with you. Disabled people are needed in the industry now more than ever to help change the narrative we're all so sick of. #endableism 💔
— Ruth Madeley (@ruth_madeley) February 3, 2021
For anyone who disagrees with this and says "but it's disability representation". No, it is not! This film doesn't accurately portray #DisabledPeople & those who are #ActuallyAutistic. When we called it out as #ableist & #harmful you called us trolls. This is not representation! https://t.co/3iOFfyJIM3
— The Chronic Campaigner (@soph_campaigner) February 3, 2021
— Eric Michael Garcia (@EricMGarcia) February 3, 2021
Don’t forget how she responded when the #ActuallyAutistic community attempted to discuss the portrayal with her.
— Persephone (@Persephone_CJ) February 3, 2021
What this says is that the #ActuallyAutistic #neuodivergent and #disabled communities don’t matter. Our communities will be hurt time and again by people like Sia who loudly proclaim nepotism and ableism, attack us, and be rewarded for it. https://t.co/caGnzoxyCi
— Carolion (@Carolinekeeth) February 3, 2021
— Steve Lieberman (@stevemlieberman) February 3, 2021