Sia defends casting Maddie Ziegler as autistic teen in new film

Sia is making her feature directorial debut with her upcoming film “Music” but one of her casting choices is raising eyebrows.

The singer/songwriter-turned-filmmaker cast “Dance Mom” alum Maddie Ziegler as an autistic teen even though the 18-year-old is not autistic in real-life. 

Sia defended her choice in a new interview with Australia’s 10 News First (via Yahoo Entertainment). She said it wouldn’t have been possible to cast a person on the autism spectrum because she needed an actor who could perform skilled dance sequences. 

“I also needed a dancer, for [the character’s] imaginary life,” Sia said in reference to the young character called Music’s dream sequences. “It’s not a documentary.”

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The film also features Kate Hudson as Zu, Music’s half-sister and guardian, and Leslie Odom Jr. as Ebo, Music’s neighbor and friend. 

Sia, 44, told the outlet she “actually tried working with a beautiful young girl nonverbal on the spectrum” but “she found it unpleasant and stressful. So that’s why I cast Maddie.”

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 added. 

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According to the movie’s description, Zu (Hudson) is a free spirit estranged from her family who suddenly finds herself the sole guardian of her half-sister, Music (Ziegler), The musical drama explores the tenuous bonds that hold us together and imagines a world where those bonds can be strengthened in times of great challenge: love, trust, and being able to be there for each other is everything.

Dancer Maddie Ziegler (L) and singer/songwriter Sia have worked together before on music videos for 'Chandelier' and 'Elastic Heart.'

Dancer Maddie Ziegler (L) and singer/songwriter Sia have worked together before on music videos for ‘Chandelier’ and ‘Elastic Heart.’ (Jeff Vespa/WireImage)

Sia first addressed the backlash on social media in November. 

“I cast thirteen neuroatypical people, three trans folk, and not as f–king prostitutes or drug addicts but s [sic] as doctors, nurses and singers,” Sia said. 

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Sia wrote 10 original songs for “Music” and plans on releasing a new album to accompany the film’s debut.

“Music” will be released overseas on January 14. 

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