A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Music -- Australian singer-songwriter Sia's directorial debut -- is a musical about a nonverbal teen named Music (frequent Sia collaborator Maddie Ziegler) with autism who's placed in the care of her older sister, Zu (Kate Hudson). The movie has been criticized by autism activists for several reasons, including casting a neurotypical actor to play Music and portraying a controversial and dangerous form of restraint (the "prone restraint") -- something that reportedly should never be done outside of a therapeutic setting. There are also several conversations and transactions involving illegal drugs, domestic violence that leads to a serious injury, a death, and two bloody wounds. Language is infrequent but includes "s--t," "goddamn," "ass," and one "f--k." Families who watch the film may also want to check out documentaries about actual teens with autism.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In Sia's directorial debut, MUSIC, a teen with autism named Music (Maddie Ziegler) is placed in the care of her much older sister, Zu (Kate Hudson), after a death in their family. Once Zu, who's in recovery from a substance addiction, moves in with Music, it's clear Zu doesn't know how to properly care for her. Kind-hearted neighbor Ebo (Leslie Odom Jr.), who lives down the hall, and apartment superintendent George (Hector Elizondo) try their best to help the sisters. What neither of them knows is that Music, who's nonverbal, has a colorful, musical inner/fantasy life, where she dances to complicated choreography and incorporates Zu, Ebo, and others. Things get increasingly complicated as Zu balances her shady job with being Music's guardian.
Is it any good?
Although its colorful, trippy song-and-dance numbers could delight fans of Sia and her talented cast, this movie is ultimately over-the-top and borderline offensive. Music has been loudly criticized for its depiction of prone restraint to subdue someone with autism: It's portrayed here as a common technique for handling Music but is actually dangerous, traumatic, and in some cases even lethal. There's also the fact that Ziegler, who's a neurotypical dancer-turned-actor, as well as Sia's self-described muse, was cast to play Music instead of a neurodiverse performer. But even worse is the way that Music has little agency in her own story outside of her reveries. She's yet another disappointing example of a marginalized character whose sole purpose is to change another character for the better -- in this case, Zu. Meanwhile, Ebo narrowly escapes another stereotype as a saintly, almost magical Black man whose chief goal seems to be to help the White sisters down the hall.
Hudson plays against type rather unconvincingly (even with the shaved head and wardrobe mostly consisting of sports bras and cut-off shorts). She does the peppy, life-of-the-party parts right but isn't believable as a gritty recovering addict who still sells drugs for quick cash. Ziegler is wonderful in the dance sequences, but her performance as Music is difficult to watch. There's a wrongness to the entire film that goes beyond the discussion of able-bodied or neurotypical actors taking away jobs from disabled or neurodiverse performers. For a much more insightful and poignant exploration of nonverbal autistic young adults, skip this and watch The Reason I Jump instead. Sia, no doubt, will survive the criticism of Music and go on to make another musical that's zany, colorful, and meaningful; this, however, is not it.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the depiction of drugs/drug use in Music. Are there consequences for the sale or use of drugs? What are the moral implications of donating illegally purchased drugs to impoverished countries?
The movie has been criticized for various reasons, one of them being the casting of a neurotypical person to play someone with autism. Why is authentic representation important? Who bears more of the responsibility to make sure this happens: a filmmaker or an actor?
How does the movie illustrate the importance of communication? Why is the ability to communicate so central to the human experience?
- In theaters: February 12, 2021
- On DVD or streaming: February 12, 2021
- Cast: Kate Hudson, Leslie Odom Jr., Maddie Ziegler
- Director: Sia
- Studio: Vertical Entertainment
- Genre: Musical
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Music and Sing-Along
- Run time: 107 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic content, drug material, brief violence and strong language
- Last updated: October 23, 2021
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