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Sia defends portrayal of autistic character in new film

Sia is defending her upcoming film, "Music," after receiving criticism for her casting of a character with autism. Fans and activists said the role should have gone to an autistic actor, calling the casting offensive and misrepresentative of the autistic community.

The singer wrote and directed the upcoming drama film, which stars Kate Hudson, Leslie Odom Jr. and Maddie Ziegler. The film tells the story of a newly sober sister struggling to take care of her nonverbal autistic sister. Ziegler, best known for her role in "Dance Moms" and many of Sia's music videos, stars as an autistic girl who uses her music to speak to others.

A trailer of the film was immediately met with criticism after its release on Thursday. In response, Sia explained the film was inspired by her close friend. "I'm so confused. The character is based completely on my neuro atypical friend. He found it too stressful being nonverbal, and I made this movie with nothing but love for him and his mother," she tweeted Friday.

"I've never referred to music as disabled," she tweeted.  "Special abilities is what I've always said, and casting someone at her level of functioning was cruel, not kind, so I made the executive decision that we would do our best to lovingly represent the community."

Some said it was a shame an artist with a major platform would exclude "disabled and neurodiverse actors from their own narratives," while others, questioned if the singer did any research for the project. 

Sia, however, said three years of research went into the project and that an unnamed autistic actress was given the opportunity to play the role but she found it to be too stressful.

The singer also said two people on the autism spectrum advised her on the project and 13 actors who appear in the film are on the spectrum, playing the roles of doctors, nurses and singers. "I believe this movie is beautiful," she tweeted, "Will create more good than harm and if I'm wrong I'll pay for it for the rest of my life."

The National Autism Society chimed in, saying Sia "has got this one wrong."

One Twitter user said autistic actors would have jumped at the opportunity to be in the film, even with short notice. "Several autistic actors, myself included, responded to these tweets. We all said we could have acted in it on short notice. These excuses are just that- excuses. The fact of the matter is zero effort was made to include anyone who is actually autistic," they wrote. 

Sia responded by saying: "Maybe you're just a bad actor."

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