|The movie starts with Music dancing to Sia’s new song; her jaw slack, shoulders hunched, teeth tucked and wide eyes dazed and unfocussed.
To me, the bright flashing lights and colours that plague the movie in sporadic scenes offers a confusing directorial style and does nothing to move the plot forward other than to show that the actress is a good dancer and Sia is a good singer.
The body language used by the actress, which sees her gurning, grimacing and mumbling through her scenes, has been described by the autistic community as deeply reminiscent of the exaggerated mannerisms neurotypical people often employ when bullying autistic and disabled people for the way they move.
As Maddie Ziegler is not autistic herself, the exaggerated mannerisms she adopts when playing this character creates an uncomfortable watch, at best.
Of course, I don’t think the blame should be solely on the actress herself as she was only 14 when they started filming. Rather, I think it is Sia’s directorial discretion to cast a neurotypical person to act in such a way that should be scrutinised. Especially considering many actors living with autism said they would have been happy to have acted in the movie on short notice.
Although it is understood that the view of fiction favours the premise of acting a role of people different from themselves, I think the sensitive issues the film explores creates a distressing experience for the community it hopes to represent.
The lack of disclaimer detailing the distressing scenes also meant that the autistic community was blindsided by the triggering content.
The movie also seems to focus more on the half sister, Zu, as she learns to take care of Music with the help of her neighbour and love interest, Ebo (Leslie Odom Jr).
Zu is not fit for the responsibility of caring for Music, but as the neighbour takes an interest in their lives, she finds enough incentive to stick around.
The focus on the half sister means that Music has no character arc and stays the same throughout the entire movie as Zu evolves into a better person for taking care of someone living with autism.
I find it hard not to cringe at the execution of this plot point as it quite blatantly suggests autistic people are a burden in society; even to the people designed to love them.
Watching the film, it seems clear to me that Music is only used as a plot device in which she embodies all of the autistic stereotypes with no other personality traits.
In a similar way, Ebo seems to only exist to reinforce immigrant stereotypes and impart his wisdom so that Zu can better herself.