Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Singer/songwriter Sia co-wrote and directed the film Music, which she said took her eight years to complete. When casting the film, Sia learned an unfortunate lesson about Hollywood biases.
"I thought it was gross," Sia said at a Sundance Film Festival panel on Women Breaking Barriers hosted by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association.
Sia cast Hamilton star Leslie Odom Jr. in one role. Executives warned Sia that if she cast a Black male and female lead, Music would be considered "a Black movie," Sia said.
"You're going to be put in a different category, you're not going to be commercial, it won't be mainstream," Sia said she was warned.
Music stars Maddie Ziegler as a girl named Music, who is on the autism spectrum. Kate Hudson plays Music's half-sister Zu, who becomes the child's legal guardian. Odom plays a neighbor in Zu's apartment building.
"I just tried to listen to anybody who had any experience in the business," Sia said. "Looking back, I guess that was a lot of White men."
Sia said she regrets that she did succumb to pressure to cast a White woman. She promises it won't happen again.
"I'm part of the problem, not the solution," Sia said. "I'm learning. Next time, I'll cast whoever I want."
In 2019, Sia adopted two 18-year-old Black sons from the foster system. Though she made Music before adopting them, Sia said she is learning more about the Black experience from them.
"They're teaching me," Sia said. "I just listen."
The director added that she is happy with Hudson in the film. Sia said her challenge was to find an actor who did not sound like a typical Broadway singer.
"I heard her first singing 'Stay' by Rihanna and I was like, 'Yay, she has some grit and she has some soul,'" Sia said.
Sia had directed some of her music videos. She said she was nervous about making the leap to a feature film. Sia credited friends, directors who met her for lunch and actors from her music videos with encouraging her to direct the film.
"They said, 'Oh yeah, you're a director,'" Sia said. "I had one of my best friends really cheerleading me the whole way, for years and years because it took eight years."
Nearly half of that time was devoted to editing. She filmed Music in 2017, but toiled over the footage for several more years.
"It took me three and a half years to finish this film," Sia said. "I nearly died during the process."
In addition to co-writing, directing and producing, Sia assisted choreographer Ryan Heffington and contributed to the film's look. Music does not speak, but in her mind she experiences lavish, brightly colored musical numbers.
"I designed most of the costumes," Sia said. "Best time ever."
"I need a pop star," Sia said. "I'm a pop star. I can do this. I've got like four lines in the movie."
Even for only four lines, Sia struggled to be objective about her own performance. She ultimately asked a producer for a second opinion.
"He was like, 'You're coming off a little unlikeable. Is that what you were hoping for?" Sia said. "I'm like, 'Yeah.'"
Music will play in select IMAX theaters on Feb. 10 and be available on video-on-demand February 12.