GUEST ESSAY: Off Key from the Start, Sia’s Music Fails to Ring True for Nonspeaking Autistics

stylized stock photo of trumpetsby Ben Breaux, Guest Contributor

The movie MUSIC by Sia is a cinematic atrocity and an attack on the autistic community.

It is an unusually pedantic film, with a good deal of inaccuracies regarding the inner-workings of the minds and true life realities of most nonspeaking autistics. It’s a glitzy production that’s off key from the start, involving characters and a storyline of only mediocre interest and content. Simply put, MUSIC is a highly discordant film that misses the real melody of the lives of nonspeaking autistics.

As the film begins, it is very misleading when the main character, Music, a young, teen nonspeaking autistic, is depicted wandering alone through the city with no clear means of communicating with others available to her. Such a scene is pretty much a myth for many of us and simply an irresponsible representation that is most often not possible or even advisable as it could lead to a dangerous outcome.

Also very troublesome and concerning is the scene when Music is trying to find words and her well meaning yet quite ignorant “people” severely limit her options—and means—of how and what she can communicate. This is not at all a true or accurate depiction of the extent of alternative communication modalities available to her, and misleads the audience on the real extent of what opportunities and possibilities are out there for nonspeaking autistics to fully communicate with—and in—the world around them. This is a repeated theme in the movie.

I had to stop watching the movie because I found it too disturbing to continue to do so. I felt very trapped in a world that didn’t at all sync up with my known reality as a non-speaking autistic. For me, the character of Music portrays a life devoid of a true and accurate understanding of what our lives—in person—really are and can be. This was highly disappointing and frustrating for me as a viewer.

I found the tactic of sitting on Music to calm her down during a meltdown to be vastly offensive, misguided, and simply barbaric, as did the communication partners assisting me in being able to view the film. I was not impressed enough with the storyline or invested enough in the characters to continue watching a film that made me so uncomfortable and sad to view. I also felt it was very disturbing viewing for my communication partner (and feel it would be for many who know, love, and care for a nonspeaking autistic) and did not want them to watch any more of it either. And so I asked for it to please be stopped and was very relieved when it did. I am concerned for, and about, any of my fellow nonspeaking autistics seeing this film.  

The only aspect of the movie that wasn’t outright offensive was the music itself. I like the songs in Music’s dreams—though the lyrics are a bit off and annoying. I also saw sparks of goodness and care in her interpersonal relationships and felt like all the characters, while very misguided on appropriate care and interventions for Music, did indeed care about each other.  

Overall, this movie should have never been brought to production. Its release has caused irreversible damage to a community of people with disabilities and fuels the ongoing oppression they face everyday. I strongly empathize with the pain my fellow nonspeaking autistics feel because of it, and am committed to helping get the word out on the importance of and need to boycott this film.  

Ben Breaux is a member of CommunicationFIRST's Advisory Council and was a member of the team of nonspeaking and autistic people the organization brought together in January 2021 to preview and provide invited feedback to Sia on her film MUSIC before its US release. The reviewers had to agree not to publish their reactions until February 12, the US release date of MUSIC.