How Sia Got Films About Autistics Wrong and Pixar Got It Right


Sia, a pop sensation known world wide decides to create a movie about autistic people named Music. This movie is about Zu, a newly sober lady who gained sole custody of her autistic half sister named Music. 

This would be an excellent opportunity for her to show the world what autistic people are made of. She could have consulted autistic people and help tear down stigma. She could but she did not. She could take a lesson from how Pixar created the short film "Loop."

Maddie Zeigler Was Not Comfortable With the Part From the Start

From the beginning, Maddie Zeigler was very uncomfortable with this part. During an interview, Sia says how Maddie was afraid the autistic community would think she was "making fun" of autistic people. Maddie was crying during the first rehearsal. Sia assured her that it would never happen and she would make sure of it. Maddie is a teen who did not feel right about this and trusted two adults to make the right call. They let her down. The autistic community does not blame her.  



How She Got it Wrong


Sia started off wrong by partnering with Autism Speaks. Autism Speaks is well known for hate speech for years against autistic people for years. According to her tweet, she had been consulting with them for three years. 


Sia's partnering organization Autism Speaks took the sweep under the rug approach to this situation. They wanted to cover their own behinds. They do not need any more bad publicity with the autistic community after calling an autistic woman the C word. 

Not only has she consulted the major organization that autistic people hate,  she cast Maddie Zeigler, not autistic, as the lead autistic character. Zeigler is a "Dance Moms" star and Sia's creative partner. Because of this, she received backlash from the autistic community. This is how she responded when challenged:


Instead of casting a non speaking autistic actor, she has a neurotypical and verbal woman imitating a non speaking autistic. 

Then there was a response from an autistic actor:


She had a real opportunity to create something that is representative of autistic people who aren't seen. 

Even National Autistic Society, a largely problematic organization in the UK, told her how she got it wrong. 


Julia Bascom, the Executive Director of Autistic Self Advocacy Network had a response:


Sia did get some support. From one organization only. By who else than the NCSA? They have something to say about this but have still to make a statement about MMS.


What Sia Can Learn From Pixar

In 2019, Pixar created an animated short called Loop. Loop is about a 13 year old non speaking autistic girl who loves canoeing. She is in a canoe with Marcus, a neurotypical boy. They communicate and interact with the world differently. Marcus had not had a lot of exposure to non speaking 

The writer and director, Erica Milsom, wanted to create it about her favorite activity. After making the film, they brought in several consultants from Autistic Self Avocacy Network. They were able to watch the film several times and give feedback. The team creating the film made the suggested changes. "They gave really helpful insight on what Rene might be experiencing or feeling."

One example of the changes is that ASAN suggested they have Rene stimming in the canoe. They made that change. The camera was not looking directly in Marcus' eyes to reflect that eye contact is not comfortable. 

Rene was voiced by an non speaking autistic woman named Maddison Bandy. When they brought Maddison into the studio, they quickly realized this was not a good environment for her. 

Instead of casting a neurotypical person to voice the character instead, they brought the studio to her home. They did the recording at her home and other places where she was comfortable. "We wanted to capture her natural voice."

Summary


How Pixar created their film was exactly how autistic people want it done. Proper representation is all autistic people want. Autistic people want to break stigma, promote acceptance and challenge stereotypes. This is how we change the tragedy narrative. 

Instead of being defensive when the community she is portraying is being marginalized even more, she should listen to what she is being told. This is how people from different neurologies and background start to understand each other. 

Sources:

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt7541720/

http://www.justjared.com/2020/11/20/sia-responds-to-criticism-for-portrayal-of-autism-in-upcoming-film-music/

https://www.facebook.com/Pixar/videos/144835243630392

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