If there’s one thing about Sia’s Golden-Globe-nominated movie Music, the story of a recovering addict saddled with the care of her autistic, nonverbal teenage sister, it’s this: stories about hot normal people overcoming immense inconveniences still sell.
We’ve seen this story before – Rain Man (Academy Award Best Picture winner). I Am Sam (Academy Award-nominated). Me Before You (critically-panned). See a pattern here (minus that last entry)?
Though it’s true that Music ended up winning zero awards, the fact remains that people still flock to inspiring, feel-good stories. They want to laugh, they want to cry, they want to know they’re good people for bothering to watch a movie that features others who are different.
That’s where I come in.
Look, the market wants what the market wants. And Music got me thinking – if an overconfident pop star’s obsessive focus on a teenage girl can produce a Golden Globe-nominated vehicle, then who’s to say I can’t do the same?
Full disclaimer, I haven’t seen Music because it wasn’t released on any of the streaming platforms I subscribe to, but I have watched the trailer. In a nutshell, Sia’s story features Music (a person, not the fun art of arranging sounds that brings people joy), a nonverbal teenage girl with autism whose care becomes the responsibility of her drug-dealing older half-sister, Zu (short for Kazu). Played by frequent Sia collaborator Maddie Ziegler, the film and the character of Music received a lot of flack due to their “harmful” portrayal of autism and “shallow messaging.” Further, Sia was roundly criticized for casting an able-bodied actor as the title character and even including a scene that features a restraint technique that has proven to cause bodily harm. Even Ziegler worried that audiences might think she was “making fun” of the autism community with her performance.
Unfortunately for Sia, yes, Music can be boiled down to clunky inspiration porn. Fortunately for me, my new movie won’t have the same issue as it is coming from a place of responsible, ethical intent.
My new movie Hope follows the story of Zu (short for Zoooooooooo). Zu is newly sober when she receives news that she is to become the sole guardian of her half-sister Hope (named as such because she is the source of Zu’s hope), a young girl with a gluten sensitivity. The film explores my two favorite themes: bravely becoming someone’s caretaker and being admired by my friends and neighbors for it, and not properly researching major aspects of my supporting character’s characterization since I need to get this screenplay out before the conversation around Music completely dies down and everyone moves onto the next thing.
Hope has everything – a white protagonist who is hot (and played by me? We’ll see), a not-normal person who is challenging, yet manageable, and also an African immigrant named Hotel Rwanda who shows Zu how to deal with her disabled teenage sister because in his unnamed country of origin, he used to care for a young brother who also struggled with gluten sensitivities.
The most inspiring scene of the film may be condemned by people who actually have gluten sensitivities for actively promoting harm, but true art isn’t afraid to push the audience out of its comfort zone. In the finale, Hope casually turns down a homemade roll lovingly baked by Zu, which of course hurts Zu’s feelings. Inspiringly, Hotel Rwanda cures Hope by force-feeding the roll to her despite her sensitivity. Then they sing and dance about it.
I realize representation matters. But, while I would love to cast an actual actor with gluten sensitivities in the part of Hope, casting an actor with her level of sensitivities would be cruel, not kind, so I’ve made the executive decision to do my best to lovingly represent the community. In lieu of this casting decision, everyone on set will be required to watch a documentary that depicts people with gluten sensitivities in their natural habitats (spoiler alert: that’s everywhere, what did you think I meant!?) to ensure dignified representation.
It’s 2021 and even people with gluten sensitivities deserve to have their stories told. Yes, they can’t enjoy the same stuff the rest of us do and you have to accommodate their BS when they’re around, but that doesn’t mean they should be treated any differently. I am honored and truly do not feel worthy enough to write and share their compelling story. And if you don’t like that, it sounds like you have some thinking to do.
AFTER you give me my award(s).