Deaf News: Marlee Matlin says after not getting a part, she was asked to teach non-Deaf actress “how to be deaf”

Posted on November 7, 2016

Buzzfeed has reported several comments from Marlee Matlin, the Deaf Oscar-winning actress, about attitudes she has faced in her career, including the time she didn’t get a part, only to be asked to teach the successful actress “how to be deaf.”

She also said that disability can be seen as “baggage” in the film industry, and that she lost a role (of a character who was suicidal) because a director didn’t want people to assume deaf people might commit suicide. Another director allegedly said that her deafness might be a distraction.

Matlin was among several disabled actors who were speaking at an event called the Ruderman Studio-Wide Roundtable on Disability Inclusion.

The article says:

Matlin, who is Deaf, said some TV- and filmmakers see disability as “baggage” — an extra layer of personal identity that may baffle audiences (or casting directors).

Sorry,” she said sarcastically to a crowd of around 80 people, many of whom were performers and creators with disabilities. “It’s good baggage. It’s what we need.”

Matlin told a story about an initially promising discussion she had with Jane Campion about playing the lead role of Ada — a nonverbal character — in 1993’s The Piano. Her recollection was that the writer-director said that she was great for the part, but that audiences would be distracted by a known Deaf actor. “And people believe that Al Pacino is really blind in Scent of a Woman?” Matlin said she replied. (Campion did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

It adds:

During the panel, Matlin said she had auditioned to play a deaf character, but it ultimately went to a non-deaf woman — and then filmmakers “had the nerve” to ask Matlin to teach the actor “how to be Deaf.”

An impulse to tiptoe around disability can cost actors jobs, too: Matlin said she lost a role in What Women Want to a non-deaf actor because the director thought casting a Deaf woman in the role was too fraught with potential controversy. After the audition, Matlin remembered that the director, Nancy Meyers, had said, “‘You know what? You gave a great performance — thank you — but the character has thoughts of suicide, and I don’t want people to think that deaf people kill themselves.’ I looked at her and I said, ‘Fine, but they do.’” (Meyers did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.)

Read the full article here.


The Limping Chicken is the world's most popular Deaf blog, and is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne. 

Find out how to write for us by clicking here, how to follow us by clicking here, and read our disclaimer here.

The site exists thanks to our supporters. Check them out below:


Posted in: deaf news