Dear Sia, you broke my heart.
A letter from an autistic fan.
I first started listening to your music when I was fifteen. I had to do a jazz routine to "Clap Your Hands", and I immediately fell in love with your sound. When "Titanium" was released, I was in a state of depression and the lyrics gave me the strength I needed to keep moving forward. "Breathe Me" was one of the songs that I would listen to right before I fell asleep, and it made me feel like I was falling slowly and gracefully. I've lost count of how many times I've seen the music video for "Chandelier", and it made me feel proud of my weirdness. "The Greatest" was released the year I came out of the autism closet, and it had the biggest impact on me. Not only did I use the song for a one-woman show about autism the following year, but I also once ranked it at Number One on my list of Autism Anthems. Heck, "I'm free to be the greatest" was in my Instagram bio for four years. I loved it so much and I didn't see the point in changing it until now.
I don't know if you've seen the 2019 film Joker, but I will go ahead and give you a spoiler warning before I continue just in case you haven't seen it. In the film, Arthur Fleck is an aspiring comedian who admires a talk show host named Murray Franklin. Arthur has a little fantasy in which he is welcomed onstage during a live show and Murray treats him like a son. Sometime later, Arthur performs some stand-up at a nightclub and a clip of his performance ends up on Murray's show. Rather than receive praise, however, Arthur is mocked by the man that he viewed as a father figure. That feeling that was running through Arthur's body when he saw his idol mocking him on live television was the exact same feeling that was going through my body and making me sick to my stomach when I saw what you said on Twitter.
As an autistic female, I always get excited when I hear about an autistic female character because we get little to no proper recognition. When I saw that you cast Maddie Ziegler in the role of an autistic girl in your film Music, however, I was immediately disappointed. I get that you adore Maddie and I admire the energy that she brings to your videos, but this just isn't the role for her. I find it very hard to believe that you couldn't find an autistic actress for the role, and it's really not that hard to accommodate autistic actors on a film set. I just so happen to be an autistic actress, and I have no problem being on a film set or on a stage. My friend is also an autistic actress, and her director knew exactly what to do when she had a meltdown on set. Sir Anthony Hopkins, Dan Aykroyd, and Daryl Hannah are all on the spectrum, and they have managed to work on a film set just as well as neurotypical actors for decades. In fact, Sir Anthony Hopkins is an Oscar winner, proving that autistic actors can truly deliver phenomenal performances.
As soon as I heard that you collaborated with Autism Speaks for this project, my heart sank even further. Autism Speaks does NOT speak for me or anyone else on the spectrum. They wish to silence our voices when we try to speak the truth about autism, and you did the exact same thing when autistics on Twitter tried to inform you of the mistakes you made. You said hateful things that remind me of the bullying that I faced growing up, and it was just one big slap in the face. You spat hatred onto the very group that you wanted to represent in your film, showing that you are anything but an ally in the fight against ableism.
By the way, you clearly don't know this, but there is nothing wrong with calling autism a disability. "Disabled" isn't an insult, and most of us are proud of our disabilities. This project is one big coat of sugar on autism, and we're sick of sugar-coating. Also, it's 2020. Any storytime that screams RAIN MAN should stay in the eighties and nineties. Stop showing neurotypicals who just need to depend on autistics for cute little life lessons. Show the issues that we have to face everyday thanks to ableism. Show how autistic kids are still being murdered by their parents for no reason to this day. Show how some autistics can't get married without losing Supplemental Security Income and Security Disability Insurance. Show how autistic females are more likely to be sexually assaulted than neurotypical females. Please stop using recycled Rain Man material.
Sia, I really hope you understand what you have done. You're not going to understand autism by listening to only two autistics. That's less than one percent of the entire autistic population. Oh, and I would reach out to Autism Self Advocacy Network and Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network instead of Autism Speaks. After what you did, it will take a lifetime for me to forgive you for tearing me down like that. You may be the girl that someone lost to cocaine, but I am one of the many fans that you've lost to ableism.