Welcome to The Hear Me Out [CC] Podcast, an audio show (with transcripts included) where we hear from inspiring people in and around the d/Deaf community and from your host, yours truly, Ahmed Khalifa.
In episode 4 of the podcast, it’s a solo show and I talk about the furore around an upcoming movie featuring a deaf character by played a hearing actress, in which the director has claimed that she signed perfectly and “seems to have an almost innate sense of what it’s like being a deaf person”.
And that’s not cool.
Listen to the podcast or read the transcripts below:
- The interview on The Hollywood Reporter with John Leonetti
- Nyle DiMarco’s tweets in response to the director’s comments
- Marlee Matlin’s tweet in response to the director’s comments
Welcome to The Hear Me Out [CC] podcast, a show where you’ll hear from inspiring people in and around the deaf community, and from your host Ahmed Khalifa.
Hey, what’s up everyone? This is your host, Ahmed Khalifa, with episode four of the Hear Me Out CC podcast, where it’s going to be a solo show featuring yours truly, because I think we need to talk about this situation. And I’ve titled the podcast on this episode,” How To Not Replicate a Deaf Person in a Movie”. And the reason I have labelled it like that is because of an interview that happened recently with a movie director.
And it kind of grinded my gears a little bit.
And I just thought, let’s record a podcast. Let me explain why, and why it’s a problem. Why it’s not a good thing to do this?
So the story is that a horror movie, that’s going to be released in December 2018, called ‘The Silence’. Now, the director, his name is John Leonetti, he has been criticised, and in my opinion rightly so, because of an interview that he did with The Hollywood Reporter.
I’ll put that in show notes. You can check it out, and you can have a read of what he said. But basically it’s the fact that there is a deaf character in the movie, but it’s been played by a hearing actress. Now, there’s been a lot of story recently about certain people should be able to be allowed to be playing a character of certain character.
What I mean by that is for example, they’ve been story about how should a disabled person play the disabled character? In this case, should a deaf actor, actress play the role of the deaf character? And in this case it didn’t happen. But that’s not the main problem. The problem is that the director, Leonetti, he said that the actress, Kiernan Shipka, who played the deaf character has a “flawless signing” and “an almost innate sense of what it’s like being a deaf person”.
And I think for a lot of people in that kind of community, the d/Deaf community, and those who are not even in it, but the kind of know how it feels, they are hard of hearing or whatever your situation is. I think it’s a little bit insulting to say that. And I don’t think it’s something that you should take it for granted, first of all, that there are people out there who knows better than you.
There are people that I do who should be able to play that role, and will be a more genuine deaf person. Will play a more genuine deaf character. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what role it is. I’m not just talking about deaf in general, I’m talking about any kind of situation, disability, anything like that. Nobody knows better than the person who is living it.
I’m not going to say I am the best person, because I’m not profoundly deaf. I’m not a sign … You know, I don’t use sign actually, I’m just learning at the moment. So, I’m not the best person, but I can bet you there are thousands or millions of people out there who will be better off doing this role.
And there are even deaf actors and actresses who will also be able to do this role perfectly.
But it’s kind of insulting for him to say that, you know, really the only way you can experience a deaf culture is to know how to sign. It’s kind of what Leonetti is saying, and you can imagine certain people kind of got annoyed by that.
And the main people who are kind of, I guess, the inner celebrity world, or in the kind of area where everyone knows these people, Nyle DiMarco is one of them, and obviously Marlee Matlin as well. And these two people are well-known. They’re both Deaf, and they’re kind of like their own … Kind of like a spokesperson almost for the d/Deaf community.
But the thing is, they both make a point. And I’ll put in the show note, you can look at the tweets that they both have tweeted. But long story short, first of all, Nyle DiMarco says, “I hate, hate to be the police here, but the casting is dangerous.”
“Kiernan learned to sign for the film, & now she’s flawless, like she’s been signing her entire life. She seems to have an almost innate sense of what it’s like being a deaf person”
– John Leonetti, a hearing Director with no understanding of Deaf peoplehttps://t.co/YbUZO6Octt
— Nyle DiMarco (@NyleDiMarco) September 17, 2018
“Secondly, the assumption made by a hearing person regarding impeccable acting as a deaf character is disgusting, disturbing and patronising.” And he also said, “Mastering sign language will take years and years, does not mean you are flawlessly deaf. Extremely insulting. To be deaf is so much more than sign language, it’s an experience that no one can ever understand, not even hearing actors.”
And mastering sign language, which takes years and years, does not mean you’re flawlessly Deaf????? Extremely insulting.
To be Deaf is SO much more than sign language.
It’s an experience that no one can EVER understand. Not even hearing actors.
— Nyle DiMarco (@NyleDiMarco) September 17, 2018
Of course, of course I agree with that. And sometimes you know it’s a good thing when you see these movies where they talk about historical moments, let’s say for example, a war movie. They do their research, don’t they? They talk to people who are in the war. They kind of get permission to go to certain places. They talk to maybe historian. They talked to experts out there.
That’s kind of the right thing to do of course, because you will never ever be able to understand, unless you’ve experienced that, you’d never be able to kind of understand what people have gone through, and by talking to them it kind of play the part. It does help a little bit.
But this is quite different when you’re saying like, you are hearing I’m going to learn a few sign language, and I know what it’s like to be deaf now. And I think that is very dangerous. I definitely agree with Nyle DiMarco.
And the other tweet that had been circulating as well is by Marlee Matlin, who is an actress, who is deaf and she is an actress, and she knows what she’s talking about. And she tweeted, and I quote what she tweeted, “Mr. Leonetti, I’m an actor who’s deaf, cast in the deaf role and received an Oscar for it. Yet you called my film as an inspiration for your film when you cast a hearing actor to play deaf? Don’t you know how far authentic casting has come in 30 years?”
Mr. Leonetti. I’m an actor who is Deaf, cast in a Deaf role and received an Oscar for it. Yet, you quote my film as an inspiration for your film when you cast a hearing actor to play Deaf? Don’t you know how far authentic casting has come in 30 years? @THR https://t.co/Cixk5irhka
— Marlee Matlin (@MarleeMatlin) September 17, 2018
Spot on, don’t you think? Authentic casting, that kind of makes sense really, doesn’t it? And who knows better than Marlee? Apart from obviously does thousands and tens of thousands, maybe millions of also amateur and professional actors out there who are deaf, but obviously Marlee Matlin is kind of in the TV, in the media all the time. So obviously, she is going to be in a … you know, have that visibility with everyone.
But, it’s so true. How can you claim that your role model, for example, is Marlee and that’s how you get inspired, and then you use a hearing actor to play a deaf role? And in the article that the interview happened, The Hollywood Reporter, and again you can check it in the show notes, there was a question from the person who interviewed Leonetti.
And the question was, did you get any tips from other films about deafness? As he said, he was talking about, well, Children of a Lesser God of course, with Bill Hurt and Marlee Matlin. And he also said that the film called Tribe from Ukraine, the whole film is just signing with no subtitles and you understand everything that is going on.
But still, that’s not the point. He’s talking about the inspiration but he’s not using the people who have inspired you. He’s not even talking to them, getting more information about them. And at the end of the day, he’s not getting the deaf actors and actresses involved.
This is dangerous, I think, in my opinion. And it’s even more dangerous when people assume that all you have to do to understand what it’s like to be deaf is to learn a few sign language, and you have the perfect experience. You know exactly what it feels like. That’s definitely not true. It’s just insulting thing to say.
So, if for any chance Leonetti is listening to this, I just want to say I’m kind of disappointed, very disappointed what you’re saying. I think it’s a shame that you’re not using the resources out there in terms of very credible actors available who can play this role.
Also not even getting in touch with the people who are heavily involved or in the d/Deaf community. They know better. You can’t say you know better than them just because you watch a couple of movies, or just because someone learnt a few sign language. They know better. Not Me. I’m not the right person for this. I can admit that this is not the right thing to do, but I can also admit that I’m not the best person to tell you how to do it. I would go to the expert actor, to the people who are living the experience.
Am I being crazy about it?
Let me know. Am I just going over the top? Am I not even thinking of straight? Is this just, you know … If it makes sense to you at all? Or, is it the right thing for him to do? Is it the best way for him to kind of go ahead with this movie, to use a hearing actor to play a deaf role? Is that okay in your world?
Maybe, in other situation, let’s not talk about the deaf situation. Let’s talk about other disability. If you want to say let’s get a white person play a black person, would you be okay with that?
Just think about that for a second.
Let me know what you think. You can contact me. You can check out the show notes. You can just tweet in the social media @hearmeoutcc and just let me know what you think.
And don’t forget, if you have enjoyed the show, I would really, really appreciate it if you could leave a review on iTunes. It really, really would mean a lot to me, and it would help to spread the message even further as well. So, thank you for listening and I’ll see you next time. Take care.
Thank you for listening to The Hear Me Out [CC] podcast. Courtesy of hearmeoutcc.com.