In Sia's directorial debut, Ziegler, an 18-year-old actress and dancer, plays a nonverbal woman with autism, even though she's neurotypical, or not on the spectrum.
The trailer for "Music," which also stars Kate Hudson and Leslie Odom, Jr., faced swift Twitter backlash after its release Thursday.
The news you've been waiting for! 🙌 Music, the movie written & directed by Sia + starring Kate Hudson, @leslieodomjr & @maddieziegler, will be arriving in early 2021! Watch a sneak peek of the movie right here. pic.twitter.com/w38L2UtIhJ— sia (@Sia) November 19, 2020
"Sigh. yet another example of Hollywood casting a non-disabled actor to play a disabled character. When doing a film about Autism, hire #ActuallyAutistic folks to work on it," Margaux Joffe, a disabilities advocate, tweeted.
Marc Malkin, a senior culture editor at Variety, said for most of Hollywood history, actors who actually have disabilities have not been represented on film or television.
"This is the next frontier where it's time that Hollywood starts casting people with disabilities," he said.
Sia has since responded to the criticism, saying "two people on the spectrum [advised] me" and that the cast was "neurodiverse."
She also said she tried to work with a "beautiful young girl" who's "nonverbal on the spectrum" before casing Ziegler but the girl found the acting "unpleasant and stressful."
Zoe Gross, the director of operations at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, called the pop artist's comments "patronizing."
"That really speaks to a kind of patronizing view of autism and the idea that we don't understand our own lives and we shouldn't be the people telling our own stories," Gross said.
This is one of many examples of a once-marginalized community being sidelined by a movie industry mindful of the need for representation.
In 2018, after criticism from activists, Scarlett Johansson eventually withdrew from a film in which she had been cast as a transgender man.
And in 1989, Dustin Hoffman won an Oscar for playing a character called an "autistic savant" in "Rain Man."
Sia's movie "Music" is set for release in early 2021.
"I believe this movie is beautiful, Will create more good than harm and if I'm wrong I'll pay for it for the rest of my life," she tweeted.
I believe this movie is beautiful, Will create more good than harm and if I’m wrong I’ll pay for it for the rest of my life.— sia (@Sia) November 20, 2020
Sia has not responded to "Good Morning America's" request for comment.