Maddie Ziegler defends playing autistic teenager in Music amid backlash

Sia has been criticised for casting Maddie instead of an autistic person.

Maddie Ziegler has addressed the controversy surrounding Sia's new movie Music for the first time, insisting it was made with "good intentions".

The movie, in which Maddie stars as Music, a largely non-verbal teenager on the autism spectrum, has been courting controversy for months ahead of its release, with people criticising Sia for casting her longtime muse instead of a person with autism.

Sia and Maddie's co-star Leslie Odom Jr. have defended the movie publicly, and the 18-year-old dancer has now spoken about the backlash for the first time in an interview with The Independent.

"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. "I understand why people would want someone who's actually on the spectrum with autism to play this character. But 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."

Music often escapes into her own imagination, characterised by colourful dance numbers, and her life is thrown into turmoil when her grandmother dies and her sister Zu, a recovering addict played by Kate Hudson, has to take care of her.

Maddie, who was 14 when she filmed the movie, added that she knew she had play Music because she loved the character so much.

"I felt so much responsibility," she admitted. "But I felt I was capable. I knew going into this that people were going to love or hate it."

She researched the part by watching Leonardo DiCaprio play an autistic teen in 1993's What's Eating Gilbert Grape and studying YouTube videos.

"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 realised 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," she shared.

Music is out now.

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