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Movies are a way to escape.
That escapism can happen through humor, dialogue, character development, and dramatic plot lines. Movies are also a tool to tell stories about real life in a more dramatic, engaging way—and of course, in approximately and an hour and 45 minutes. But when art imitates life, especially when it comes to socially sensitive topics, the producers, actors, and writers must take special care not to misrepresent the under-represented or the misunderstood. Unfortunately, this care was not taken with Sia’s new film, “Music”.
While I am ecstatic and encouraged, she took a chance to use her talents and platform to bring awareness to the struggles both people on the autism spectrum face and their caregivers; the execution fell short. It (perhaps unintentionally) promoted stereotypes and highlighted antiquated and inhumane measures to help calm or control a disabled person. There is particular emphasis on the scenes depicting physical restraint to control a person with autism or any disability for that matter. It is an antiquated, inexcusable, and frankly, an illegal means of control.
If you are even the least bit familiar with the autism community, you know we have collectively designed ways to soothe autistic meltdowns. It varies for everyone. For my son Leo, it is medical cannabis. In many states, this is also illegal. But when watching this movie, please think about these two methods: Giving a child oil from a medicinal plant or controlling them with police-like tactics. Which would be a better avenue to open up a conversation about how caretakers can effectively help the individuals they care for daily?
“Caretakers” do not use violent means to control the human beings they are responsible for. They are not zookeepers; they are CARE takers.
But the movie took no care in depicting the treatment of a human being like an uncontrolled animal. Many people look to fictional films to learn about REAL issues. It is for that reason, this depiction is so detrimental for so many individuals and the movement.
There are many reasons the autism community has been adamantly vocal about its distaste for Music. Many were upset Sia did not cast an autistic person as the autistic person in the film (Music) from a portrayal standpoint.
While I respect everyone’s point of view, I can’t say this is one I share. Actors are trained professionals. Their job is to portray other people—to step out of themselves and into the soul of another individual. There are actors who are not disabled who have portrayed people who are blind, deaf, in a wheelchair, suffer from mental illness, physical illness, and yes, who have autism. Think back to Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man or Leonardo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.
While many will be steadfast in their belief an autistic person should have been given the role of Music, I remain steadfast that if the part were written more accurately, the actor could have done a better job interpreting the role. Instead, it was perceived more as a parody, an imitation as opposed to an interpretation. This, I do have a problem with, and I often think of how other children may make fun of my son, bully him or humiliate him by mimicking his mannerisms. But this is not the actor’s fault. It was a lack of awareness and understanding on the part of the artists making the film.
When you go out on a ledge to create an impactful film, you better get the facts right. Especially when hundreds of thousands are people are living this story every day.
The criticism from the Autism community was coming from a place of literal interpretation. I often think of autism as a subjective condition. Like movies, it has an extraordinary impact on everyone it touches. In turn, everyone impacted presents uniquely. So, I’ll play devil’s advocate and suggest what is going on in Music’s mind in the movie could be what Music is seeing. More likely, it could be the narrator or caregiver’s interpretation of what they think the person with autism is seeing or processing.
Autism is not scientific.
Recently, I’ve been thinking more about how people with autism feel about how others speak about them, see them and interpret their behavior. As a caregiver for my son and as the person who gave birth to him, I firmly believe no one on this earth knows him better. I am with him all the time and spend hours on end trying to interpret what he may be thinking, feeling, or most importantly, what he may need. Autism forces you to rethink communication.
That in itself is a challenge.
Was the movie trying to convey that? I don’t know.
If they were, they didn’t do a very good job. Did the producers intentionally set out to misrepresent people with autism or set back the progress we have made as a community? I don’t think that is the case. But let’s put aside the intended purpose and reflect on what we really learned—which was most people have a lot to learn when it comes to autism. It was not well thought out, and it did not do much for the viewers except highlight Kate Hudson once again as a talented actor.