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Maddie Ziegler’s Response To Criticism Over Her ‘Music’ Role Touches On Process

Sia's Music has received a lot of attention these past few months. When the first trailer arrived in November 2020, people expressed their concerns over the singer's casting of Maddie Ziegler as the main character (who's a nonverbal teen with autism), wondering why she didn't hire someone who was actually on the autism spectrum instead. At first, Sia defended her casting decision, but after a scene from the movie leaked online that many accused of being problematic, she reportedly apologized and deleted her Twitter account. Now, Maddie Ziegler’s response to criticism over her Music role explained exactly how she feels about all of this.

Up until this point, Ziegler had not addressed the backlash over her role, and in a Feb. 14 interview with the Independent, the star explained why she decided to remain silent about it for so long. "I’ve actually stayed out of all of it just because, you know, I’m 18 years old and it’s a lot of pressure," she said, adding she sees where people's concerns are coming from. "I understand why people would want someone who’s actually on the spectrum with autism to play this character."

However, since the film has Ziegler's character performing various musical sequences, she felt her years dancing on Dance Moms and in Sia's previous music videos made her a right fit for the role. "In terms of the dance sequences, I think that’s why Sia chose me to bring the dream world to life. It was all [made] with good intentions and with a good heart," Ziegler said. "I felt so much responsibility, but I felt I was capable. I knew going into this that people were going to love or hate it."

Ziegler said she researched her role by studying Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance as a teen with autism in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and watching YouTube videos of people on the spectrum. "I’d get in my head at times: ‘I’m going to try and replicate those mannerisms and those tics.’ But then I started watching each video and I realized every single person is so special in their own way. That’s how Sia and I came up with Music, her mannerisms, and her own thing going on," the star said of her experience.

Ziegler was right about people having mixed feelings. Over the past few months, people and organizations within the autism community have criticized Sia not only for her casting of Ziegler, but also because she worked with the controversial group Autism Speaks. When leaked Music scene dropped on Jan. 20 depicting Ziegler's character in prone restraints — a practice which has been condemned since it can cause suffocation and death — it caused further backlash.

Due to the controversy surrounding the scene, Sia revealed in a Feb. 4 tweet, which has since been deleted, her movie would include a warning at the beginning saying, "MUSIC in no way condones or recommends the use of restraint on autistic people." She also said she planned on removing the scene from all future screenings of the movie.

Music premiered on various streaming services on Friday, Feb. 12.