Music

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Music Movie Poster Image
Despite talented cast, drama is a misguided look at autism.
  • PG-13
  • 2021
  • 107 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 8 reviews

Kids say

age 15+
Based on 26 reviews

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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Encourages empathy, compassion. Acknowledges that not everyone can verbally express their thoughts and feelings. Demonstrates importance of strong family ties and relationships. Some controversial elements and moments when it comes to how people try to help Music when she's overwhelmed.

Positive Role Models

Zu is a survivor and steps up to be Music's guardian, even though she doesn't know what to do. Ebo is kind, friendly, selfless. Music is loved by neighbors, friends. She has a rich inner life full of singing and dancing. But she's played by a neurotypical actress, which doesn't contribute to positive representation in film, and has little agency in her story outside of her inner world. She's a disappointing example of a marginalized character whose sole purpose is to change another character for the better. Ebo's characterization as a saintly, almost magical Black man whose chief goal seems to be to help the White sisters down the hall is similarly troubling.

Violence

Early on, Music's grandmother dies suddenly. Music is physically restrained to help calm her down, but the prone restraint is considered dangerous, controversial, and violent in the autism community. A teen's father is abusive; he pushes and hits his wife and, when the son tries to defend his mother, pushes him too, and he falls and starts bleeding from the head. A woman is hurt, has a bloody face/mouth. A drug distributor threatens that if a dealer can't sell/pay off debts, he'll have to "do something bad."

Sex

A couple flirts, embraces, kisses. A woman tries to kiss a man.

Language

Occasional language includes "smart ass," "s--t," "goddamn," and one "f--k."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A person recovering from alcohol dependency throws out all the liquor in an apartment. Discussion of a mother who was "a big junkie." A character is drunk. A character sells pills/drugs (several brands named) to adults. A drug user jokes about how much she needs the pills to deal with a domestic situation. 

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bysusanwinemomma1965 February 17, 2021

Worst. Movie. Ever.

This movie was terrible! I her one or two reviews before watching saying it was good, so i decided to watch it with my children. It was horrible! I would never... Continue reading
Adult Written byEliazc212 February 19, 2021

A review from someone with autism

As an individual with autism, I found this movie repulsive and violating. The title character is simply a caricature of autistic behavior. I found her performan... Continue reading
Teen, 16 years old Written byautistic.advocate February 18, 2021

Ableist and dangerous messages

Super ableist. Dehumanizes Music and portrays autism completely wrong. Sia worked with an autism hate group, autism $peaks, for this movie. A$ has sent out mult... Continue reading
Teen, 17 years old Written byStellarTiger292 March 4, 2021

Inaccurate and offensive

This is horribly offensive to actual autistic people. The way the autistic character (played by a neurotypical actress) moves and acts just feels like a charact... Continue reading

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?

  • Why are compassion and empathy important character strengths? Who displays them in the story?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love stories about neurodiverse characters

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

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