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Sia Lashes Out At Autism Community Over Criticism Of Her Upcoming Movie

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The road to ableism has always been paved with good intentions.

Last week, Sia posted a trailer for her upcoming movie, “Music.” According to a press release, the “Chandelier” singer co-wrote the screenplay and directed the musical drama, which stars Maddie ZieglerKate Hudson and Leslie Odom Jr. Sia also released a 14-track album to accompany the film, titled “Music – Songs From And Inspired By The Motion Picture.”

The film follows Hudson’s character, who is estranged from her family but suddenly finds herself the sole guardian of her nonverbal autistic half-sister, played by Zeigler. The two sisters also strike up a friendship with their neighbor, played by Odom, according to Variety

Yet despite the seemingly feel-good content, upon the release of the trailer, many in the disability and autism community expressed concerns on social media.

One criticism is that Sia cast Ziegler — an 18-year-old dancer who has starred in several of the Australian pop star’s music videos — as the lead. Ziegler is neurotypical, and many in the autistic community took issue with the dancer portraying a nonverbal autistic teenager.

“There’s a lot to be concerned about with this film, including ― but definitely not limited to ― the casting,” Zoe Gross, director of operations at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, told HuffPost via email. “We’re concerned about what messages the film will send about autism.”

“It’s sad to see people investing so much time and money into this outdated approach to telling stories about autism, when there are so many better ways to do it,” she said.

Gross also pointed out that the “focus on guardianship is extremely concerning,” especially if the autistic character in the movie is of legal age.

“Families of young adults with disabilities are often steered towards guardianship, which involves removing a person’s legal rights,” she explained. “Alternatives to guardianship, such as supported decision-making, can be used to help people with all levels of support needs, including nonspeaking autistic people, retain their legal rights while still receiving supports in adulthood.”

“These alternatives to guardianship are crucial for helping people with disabilities live happy, self-determined lives, but are often not known about, and this film may represent a missed opportunity to educate people on this subject.”

It’s sad to see people investing so much time and money into this outdated approach to telling stories about autism, when there are so many better ways to do it.
Zoe Gross, director of operations at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network

The entertainment industry has long struggled with the authentic representation of people with disabilities. Films and TV shows have traditionally depicted them as objects of inspiration or pity — which contributes to harmful stereotypes that continue to marginalize them. In 2016, only 2.7% of characters in the 100 highest-earning movies were disabled, according to a report from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Film and TV have also perpetuated the harmful trope that autistic people are savants (think: 1998’s “Rain Man” or the most recent hit, “The Good Doctor”), which contributes to the cultural belief that someone with a neurotypical disability is a burden unless they have some kind of superpower.

Another factor that many in the autistic community were troubled by was that Sia consulted with the organization Autism Speaks for her film.

Autistic people have criticized Autism Speaks for years over its controversial messaging, including a resource on its site called the 100 Day Kit for parents of newly diagnosed autistic children. According to ASAN, the kit encourages parents to blame family stress on their autistic child and to spend time with their non-autistic children remembering how things were better before their sibling’s diagnosis. ASAN also notes that the kit encourages families to go through the five stages of grief after learning that their child is autistic, which ASAN characterizes as being akin to acting “as they would if the child had died.”

Gross also noted that Autism Speaks is “an organization without autistic leadership whose advocacy priorities are in opposition to the autistic community.”

Also alarming was Sia’s responses to people’s concerns.

When one Twitter user asked Sia why she cast a non-autistic actor for the lead, she lashed out by listing the neuroatypical and trans people she had cast in her film.

“I cast thirteen neuroatypical people, three trans folk, and not as fucking prostitutes or drug addicts but as doctors, nurses and singers,” she tweeted. “Fucking sad nobody’s even seen the dang movie. My heart has always been in the right place.”

This response didn’t go down well.

“So, you got out your ‘token quota’ card when casting?” Dominick Evans, a disability advocate, responded on Twitter.

“We are not objects to be counted to ‘prove you are diverse.’”

Another Twitter user pointed out that’s Sia’s attempt at subverting disabled stereotypes also comes off a bit misguided.

“Should all autistic &/or trans people aspire to be doctors, nurses or singers – are we only valid then?” they asked.

Sia told another Twitter user that she felt that casting an autistic person with her character’s “level of functioning” was “cruel, not kind, so I made the executive decision that we would do our best to lovingly represent the community.”

Although some may think this “executive decision” was pragmatic, Gross said ASAN was “alarmed” that Sia thought that casting a nonspeaking autistic actor would be “cruel.”

“It suggests that she thinks that autistic people don’t understand our own lives and aren’t the people who should be telling our own stories,” Gross told HuffPost. “When people tell stories about autism that cut out an autistic point of view, when storytellers view us as objects to tell inspirational stories about, or when autism is treated as a narrative device rather than as a disability community full of real people, the stories that are told fall flat, don’t speak to our reality, and are often harmful to us.”

When another Twitter user asked if Sia had done any research or consulted the autism community at all, she responded: “Duh. I spent three fucking years researching, I think that’s why I’m so fucking bummed.”

Yet in the course of the research, it seems she never stumbled upon one of the many online critiques of Autism Speaks. Sia said the controversial organization came on board to consult “long after the film was finished.” 

A Twitter user appears to have warned Sia about Autism Speaks earlier this year.

Sia even went as far as telling an autistic actor that “maybe you’re just a bad actor” when the actor tweeted that her reasons for casting a neurotypical actor to play an autistic teen were merely “excuses.”

Alaina Leary, an autistic writer, wrote in Refinery 21 that Sia’s rude remark to the autistic actor only adds “to the prevalent assumption that autistic people are unable to act because we’re not neurotypical, which ignores the incredible diversity of the autistic community.”

Leary also pointed out how Sia’s assertion that casting an actor with the character’s “level of functioning was cruel, not kind,” and shows “how little research she has done on autistic people.”

“Describing someone as low-functioning and making assumptions about their abilities based on how they communicate is ableist, not kind,” Leary wrote.

Gross added that her organization had consulted with the team that made Pixar’s movie “Loop” and offered an example of how autistic actors could be included in narratives involving their lives.

“They brought on a nonspeaking autistic voice actress, Madison Bandy, to play a nonspeaking autistic character,” Gross explained. “And they modified their recording process to allow her to participate in a way that worked for her.”

Gross added that autistic people often need accommodations for work, including in the entertainment industry, “but that doesn’t mean that we are not worth hiring or including.”

“It’s deeply disappointing to see Sia using her platform to attack autistic people who’ve spoken up about their concerns about the film,” Gross concluded to HuffPost. “When you speak over a marginalized community to tell their story without their input, people will object to that.”

“If Sia truly wants to be an ally to the autistic community, she’d listen to the feedback she’s getting and learn from autistic people about how we want to be represented.”

Sia did not immediately reply to HuffPost’s request for comment.





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Meghan Markle And Prince Harry’s Netflix Series Now Has A Release Date

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The streaming giant announced that the docuseries will drop in two batches: The first three episodes will arrive on Dec. 8 and the remaining three episodes will be released on Dec. 15.

The docuseries promises to go behind the scenes on why the couple stepped back as working royals in March 2020 ― and to illuminate the inner workings of the royal family.

“There’s a hierarchy of the family,” Harry says, as photos show the royal family. “You know, there’s leaking, but there’s also planting of stories.”

“It’s a dirty game,” the prince adds in the trailer while talking about the “pain and suffering of women marrying into this institution,” as the trailer shows footage of his mother, Princess Diana.

“I was terrified,” he added. “I didn’t want history to repeat itself.”

The royals ultimately moved to the U.S.

“No one knows the full truth,” Harry explains in the trailer. “We know the full truth.”

Netflix says that “The Duke and Duchess of Sussex share the other side of their high-profile love story” in this “unprecedented and in-depth documentary series.”

“Across six episodes, the series explores the clandestine days of their early courtship and the challenges that led to them feeling forced to step back from their full-time roles in the institution,” the description adds.





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Watch Joe Biden Launch Groan-Worthy Joke At George Clooney In White House

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Biden first praised all the honorees as “an incredible group of people.”

“And we the people, we see character. We see Amal Clooney’s husband,” the president cracked.

The tease got laughs, including from the actor himself.

Clooney’s wife, Amal, is a prominent and accomplished human rights attorney.

The quip was a “version of one of Biden’s most well-worn gags,” Mediaite noted.

Biden got serious and praised the two-time Oscar winner for his activism on behalf of 9/11 victims’ families and refugees, and his support for survivors of the 2018 Parkland, Florida, school shooting and their work for gun reform.

“That’s character,” Biden said. “That’s George Clooney.”

Other honorees included singer Amy Grant, singer Gladys Knight, composer Tania Leon and the rock band U2.

The ceremony at the Kennedy Center was highlighted by a routine by Sacha Baron Cohen scorching former President Donald Trump and rapper-turned-vocal Hitler appreciator Ye (formerly known as Kanye West). There was also a public appearance by Paul Pelosi, the husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) who was seriously injured in October by a hammer-wielding home invader.





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George Clooney, U2, Gladys Knight Among 2022 Kennedy Center Honorees

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WASHINGTON (AP) — A heartfelt Patti LaBelle praised her lifelong friend Gladys Knight. Sean Penn called U2 “four scrappy Dublin punks.” Ballet dancers performed for conductor and composer Tania León. Matt Damon playfully teased his friend George Clooney — a lot — while Sheryl Crow delivered a heartfelt rendition of “Baby Baby” to Amy Grant during Sunday’s Kennedy Center Honors.

Knight, Clooney, Grant, León and U2 were all celebrated at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which annually honors a select group of people for their artistic influences on American culture. President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and their respective spouses were in attendance, as were members the President’s Cabinet and Congress.

One audience member from the political world — Paul Pelosi, husband of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — drew some attention. He is recovering from a brutal attack in the Pelosis’ San Francisco home in October. The couple received a standing ovation from the crowd.

Normally performers like U2 or Knight would be headlining such a show, but during the Kennedy Center event the honorees sit in the balcony and watch as their peers laud them and perform their works.

On the red carpet, Clooney, with his wife, Amal, beside him, joked that after seeing friends like Don Cheadle and Julia Roberts in attendance he was worried his tribute would be more of a “roast.” And it was a bit like that, though his friends and family showed obvious respect.

Roberts set the tone by coming out onstage with a dress emblazoned with photos of Clooney. After an introduction that alternated between funny and heartfelt she turned to a set designed to look like a smoky bar — the type Clooney might enjoy. The actor’s father, Nick Clooney, regaled the crowd with stories of a young George, including the time the 7-year-old — heartbroken over the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 — gave his father all his toy guns.

Damon took the funny road, joking about how Clooney once stole then-President Bill Clinton’s stationery and wrote notes to fellow actors on it. Cheadle highlighted Clooney’s philanthropic work. But it was Clooney’s father who probably had the strongest praise, telling the crowd and his son, sitting in the balcony between León and U2′s Bono, “George’s best and most important work is still ahead of him.

Standing on a stage lit by a massive sign reading “Gladys,” LaBelle called Knight her “everything,” saying they had been friends for six decades and had seen each other through laughter and tears. “We do everything together,” LaBelle said. “I am honored to honor you tonight.”

Actor and hip-hop star LL Cool J said that whenever Knight sings she connects with people. “I once heard Gladys sing the ABCs and I thought I was in church,” he said.

Knight — usually with her backup singers, The Pips — has recorded dozens of albums with such classic hits as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Midnight Train to Georgia.” The challenge of singing that classic in front of the woman who made it famous fell to country music superstar Garth Brooks, who is a Kennedy Center honoree in his own right. He cited Knight’s “roots in country music” before launching into the classic.

Each artist was introduced by a video compilation showing snippets of their lives. In Grant’s, her children talked about their mother’s influence on them. Crow talked about Grant’s influence on her when she was a young college student.

“Amy also taught me that it was possible to be funny, irreverent and Christian all at the same,” said Crow.

Five ballet dancers took to the stage to honor composer and conductor Tania León, who left Cuba as a refugee in 1967; her passport was stamped “Cancelado” when she left the country. The performers were from the Dance Theatre of Harlem, which León helped found when she eventually made her way to New York City. She also instituted the Brooklyn Philharmonic Community Concert Series and in 2021 received the Pulitzer Prize for her work “Stride,” inspired by women’s rights champion Susan B. Anthony.

“How do I convey the extent of your musical genius?” asked actress and playwright Anna Deavere Smith. Jazz pianist Jason Moran, singer Alicia Hall Moran and cellist Sterling Elliott played one of León’s creations, “Oh Yemanja.”

The last honoree of the night was U2. In a video taped Saturday, U2 guitarist The Edge noted that a group of four “Irish lads” were being honored for contributions to American culture and said there’s a bond between the group and America that can’t really be explained.

Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder sang U2′s “Elevation” and “One.” Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen brought his alter ego Borat to the stage as part of the U2 tribute, pretending to mistake Biden for former President Donald Trump. Singers Brandi Carlile, Hozier and Jamala — from the U.S., Ireland and Ukraine, respectively — closed out the show with an emotional version of “Walk On.”

U2′s Bono is also known for his philanthropic work to eradicate poverty and to raise awareness about AIDS. Jamala, whose home country of Ukraine has been embroiled in nearly a year of bloody warfare after the Russian invasion, touched on that history of social activism as she introduced the night’s final song.

“It’s fitting that on the night meant to honor them they have once again used their platform to spread a message of peace. Honestly to be here in this bright warm hall this evening is really something extraordinary for me, when there is so much darkness in my home country Ukraine,” she said.

The honorees came to the theater from a White House reception where Biden praised them before a star-studded East Room crowd as an “exceptional group of artists.”

“Thank you for showing us the power of the arts and ‘We the People,’” Biden said.

AP White House Correspondent Zeke Miller contributed to this report. Follow Santana on Twitter @ruskygal.





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Tattoo Removal Studio Offers Freebies To Regretful Kanye West Fans

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A London tattoo removal studio is offering free sessions to people who no longer want Kanye West inked on their bodies.

Naama Studios first posted the offer last month, saying it would remove tattoos of the rapper, who has changed his name to Ye, free of charge.

The business later shared videos of two happy clients who had taken advantage of the deal, promoted with the tagline “Yeezy come, Yeezy go.”

“When you have a tattoo inspired by someone you admire and they end up making headlines for all the wrong reasons…” the post read.

“We understand that tattoos can be triggering for some people and not everyone can afford to remove their tattoos,” the business told The Washington Post. According to the Post, several people had already started to process of getting Ye tattoos removed, and around ten more had reached out to Naama for consultations. The procedure reportedly costs up to 2000 pounds (roughly $2400).

Ye lost fans and placed his business empire in crisis after making a series of antisemitic and hateful statements in public since early October. He was repeatedly suspended from social media platforms and dropped by most of his professional partners.

On Thursday, he openly defended Adolf Hitler and Nazis during a trainwreck interview on Alex Jones’s Infowars show, accompanied by white supremacist Nick Fuentes. Later that day, he was suspended from Twitter for tweeting a swastika merged with the Star of David.





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Theo James Was Shocked By ‘Ginormous’ Prosthetic Penis Used For ‘The White Lotus’ NSFW Scene

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Actor Theo James has a massive…sense of humor when it comes to starring in nude scenes for HBO’s “The White Lotus.”

Appearing Friday on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon,” the actor — who went viral for a steamy scene in the second season premiere of the comedy-drama series — revealed that the fake “pee-pee” he wore for the NSFW scene in the show was “ginormous.”

The much-talked-about nude scene features James, who plays businessman Cameron Babcock, stripping completely naked to change into a swimsuit while Harper (Aubrey Plaza) watches in the bathroom.

“The truth of it was, you go into these scenes, and you have a conversation with the director and the producers and they go, ‘Okay, for this, we’re going to use a prosthetic,’” the 37-year-old recalled of the popular scene. “And you say, ‘Okay, that sounds good.’”

However, despite giving his input to makeup chief Rebecca Hickey about wanting to sport a more modest faux penis, things didn’t quite go according to plan.

“I said, ‘Honestly, I just want it not to be distracting,’” he told host Jimmy Fallon.

“It needs to be ‘Regular Joe.’ Because the scene, you know, it’s not about the pee pee; it’s about power play and sex. It’s about whether he did it deliberately or whether it was an accident and what that means. She says, ‘I got you. Yeah, I got you. Regular Joe.’” James continued.

To James’ surprise, “Regular Joe” was not what he received.

According to the British actor, when he arrived on set, Hickey approached him with a fake penis so outrageously large that it looked like she had “a hammer.”

“I mean, it’s bigger than that. It’s like she stole it off a donkey in the field. The thing is ginormous. And me and the director, Mike White, are sitting there going, ‘That’s… average, is it?’” he joked.

James then quipped that both he and White immediately ran off to call their “respective partners” to profusely apologize, like “I’m so sorry.”

“It was nine inches flat and about four inches wide. We were like, ‘What the hell is that?’” he added, laughing.

Speaking to Entertainment Tonight in October, James shared it “felt natural” to go sans clothes in front of the camera for the scene in the primetime Emmy-winning series.

He jokingly added, “It is in my contract that I’m not allowed to do anything without being completely naked.”

Just a month later, James told the outlet that audiences didn’t get a chance to see the initial scene they planned because it was “way too much,” so they “toned it [down].”

“The original derivation of it, it’s kind of full-frontal, if you know what I mean. We shot that and it felt too much, too aggressive,” he told Entertainment Weekly in November. “What we came to is a bit more opaque, and that’s exactly what Mike does so well. You’re never sure a hundred percent of the characters’ intentions.”

“The White Lotus” airs new episodes on HBO and HBO Max at 9 p.m. on Sunday nights.





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Prince Harry Hits Out At ‘Baseless’ Story That Pits ‘Him Against His Country’

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Prince Harry is shutting down a recent report that accused him of telling a friend “Those Brits need to learn a lesson” ahead of the couple’s bombshell interview with Oprah Winfrey last year.

The global press secretary for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex told HuffPost that “this is a baseless hit piece masquerading as journalism.’”

“This story is riddled with inaccuracies, not least of which is a quote erroneously attributed to Prince Harry,” the spokesperson said Sunday.

“To accuse a man who spent 10 years serving his country of wanting to teach that same country a lesson is not only an attempted distraction but an unfortunate and predictable tabloid strategy,” she added. “To pit him against his country is shameful and manipulative, especially when Prince Harry has never spoken ill of the British public.”

The Sun did not immediately respond to a HuffPost request for further comment.

The story and response come on the heels of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s recent, three-day tour of Boston, where they were for the Earthshot Prize Awards.

As the tour nearly coincided with the release of Harry and Meghan Markle’s forthcoming Netflix docuseries, a palace source prior to the trip said the Prince and Princess of Wales wouldn’t “be distracted by other things.”

A trailer for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s six-part series with the streaming giant dropped on the second day of William and Kate’s royal tour, leading many to question the timing of its release.

In the teaser, a voice asks Harry, “Why did you want to make this documentary?”

“No one sees what happens behind closed doors,” the prince responds. “I had to do everything I could to protect my family.”

“When the stakes are this high, doesn’t it make sense to hear our story from us?” Meghan later adds in the clip.





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Kenan Thompson’s Herschel Walker Is Confident About His Erection On ‘SNL’

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He addressed Tennessee GOP Sen. Marsha Blackburn (Cecily Strong) as “your Highness,” called Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell (James Austin Johnson) “Mr. McDonald,” and admitted there are still “so many” bad things about him people don’t know.

At the end of a long tale of bad things, “Walker” concludes: “Anyway, she didn’t want to keep it, so I drove her down to the Planned Parent Trap.”

When voting by mail was mentioned, “Walker” noted: “You gotta remember, they still gotta count votes by female.”

The Republican brain trust was so rattled they decided to lock Walker in a room — just for a few days.





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