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Sia has said that she entered rehab following the backlash to her directorial debut, the 2021 film Music.
The musician was widely criticised over her decision to cast neurotypical actor and dancer Maddie Ziegler in the lead role of Music Gamble, a teenage girl who was nonverbal and autistic. The film also drew criticism for showing scenes where the character is restrained.
Autistic performers condemned the film, and one critic called the movie “a baffling and patronising cringefest of ableist minstrelsy”, while another described it as “harmful” to autistic people.
Speaking to The New York Times as part of a profile on US comic Kathy Griffin, Sia said: “I was suicidal and relapsed and went to rehab.”
She credited Griffin for helping her recover. “She saved my life,” Sia told the publication.
At the time of the backlash, Sia had hit back at critics, saying they had “no f***ing idea”. She defended casting Ziegler, who had also starred in her music videos for “Chandelier” and “Elastic Heart”, saying she “needed a dancer”, adding: “It’s not a documentary. Kate [Hudson, who plays Gamble’s sister] isn’t a drug dealer and Leslie Odom Jr [who plays neighbour Ebo] isn’t from Ghana.”
She also said: “The character is based completely on my neuro-atypical friend,” Sia added. “He found it too stressful being nonverbal, and I made this movie with nothing but love for him and his mother.”
After the film was nominated for two Golden Globes in February 2021, Sia announced: “I promise [I] have been listening. The motion picture Music will, moving forward, have this warning at the head of the movie: ‘Music in no way condones or recommends the use of restraint on autistic people.
“‘There are autistic occupational therapists that specialise in sensory processing who can be consulted to explain safe ways to provide proprioceptive, deep-pressure feedback to help with meltdown safety.’”
Sia then tweeted: “I’m sorry.”
If you are experiencing feelings of distress and isolation, or are struggling to cope, the Samaritans offers support; you can speak to someone for free over the phone, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email email@example.com, or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.
If you are based in the USA, and you or someone you know needs mental health assistance right now, call National Suicide Prevention Helpline on 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Helpline is a free, confidential crisis hotline that is available to everyone 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
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