Australian singer-songwriter Sia’s directorial debut, “Music,” has rightfully been disdained months before its release earlier this year.
Through the poor casting of a neurotypical actress, Maddie Ziegler, to portray a character with autism, and the dangerous misuse of restraint shown in the film, The Autistic Self Advocacy Network called on Sia to outright cancel the film.
The film was not abandoned. It can be found on iTunes to buy or rent, and it somehow ended up with two Golden Globe nominations.
The film doesn’t deserve publicity, but it serves as an example of how to totally mishandle representing those with disabilities in mass media.
There is another, far more deserving, film to discuss. That film is Darius Marder’s “Sound of Metal.”
Riz Ahmed stars as Ruben, a heavy metal drummer who tours the country with his girlfriend, Lou, played by Olivia Cooke. They are not household names, but the duo is facing an even bigger challenge, Ruben’s hearing is deteriorating.
Ruben is in denial and tries to soldier on, but Lou realizes that he needs help. They stop touring and go to a rural shelter for those with hearing loss. It is run by Joe, played by Paul Raci, a recovering alcoholic who lost his hearing in the Vietnam War.
The film does not romanticize hearing loss or make it quirky— and it understands the anger of its protagonist.
However, the film is not about that anger. It is about acceptance. Joe holds the key message of the film; “Everybody here shares in the belief that being deaf is not a handicap. Not something to fix.”
Usually, sound engineers discuss elements of audio with directors before filming starts. This film’s sound needed far more work.
Becker and Marder started to work together two years before filming began, and a year before Riz Ahmed had been cast. In an interview with Deadline, Becker explained their goal for the film’s sound, “was based on the fact that the film had to be an experience, and everything needed to be very physical.”
Becker’s physical audio process started with using a different type of microphone. These contact microphones act similar to stethoscopes, which capture the internal noise of the human body. The sound design feels like you are experiencing Ruben’s hearing deterioration alongside him.
Cinematic sound design hasn’t felt this exciting in a long time.
When it comes to the stars on screen, there is no shortage of phenomenal acting. Riz Ahmed’s performance has rightfully been receiving nominations and awards, left and right, with too many to mention here. To prepare for the role, he learned American Sign Language, and took drum lessons for six months. His intensity on stage is then perfectly contrasted by his vulnerability the morning after.
Then there is Paul Raci, as Joe, hands down the best performance of the year. His accolades have been coming in from film critic polls across the country, but he hasn’t broken through to the industry awards. If he isn’t nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar, the studio will have failed Raci as a professional for not giving him enough publicity. While he is not deaf, he is a child of deaf adults (CODA). He has been acting since the early ‘90s and is even in an ASL Black Sabbath tribute band. He sings lead vocals while signing along for deaf audiences.
On March 9, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts nominations were announced and “Sound of Metal” was mentioned four times. Riz Ahmed and Paul Raci were both nominated for their phenomenal performances. The film was also nominated for Best Editing and Sound.
Films that are as poorly researched and cast as “Music” create pain for those who the filmmakers think they are trying to prop up. “Sound of Metal” is a resounding work that does not come from a place of pride. It comes from a sincere place that is not only empathetic in itself but inspires empathy in the viewer.