The Problematic Article
At the end of January, a NY Daily News article featuring an interview with actress Catalina Sandino Moreno about her role in the upcoming movie Medeas quickly became controversial for several reasons.
For one, the word "mute" was used several times throughout the article, often by Moreno herself, to refer to Deaf people.
An "offensive term from the 18th-19th century, 'mute' also means silent and without voice." It is an outdated and offensive term, and its use by Moreno only serves to highlight how much she has yet to learn about the Deaf community.
The title of the NY Daily News interview Youtube video is even "'Medeas' star talks playing a mute & Oscar nomination".
Oh, and then there's the obvious fact that, you know, yet another hearing actress was hired to play a Deaf role.
"We just had to put that [...] little snip of reality in the film."
At one point in the interview, Moreno describes her surprise that her Deaf coworker can recognize music. Shocked by this discovery, Moreno says she talked with the director and a scene was added to the film where her character sways to music. She says, "We just had to put that part of... that little snip of reality in the film."
If reality is what they were going for, they could have just, you know, hired a Deaf actress..??
The article, understandably, sparked backlash, such as this video by Youtuber Rogan Shannon, expressing his anger and frustration over yet another Deaf role being played by a hearing actress, as well as the general ignorance present in the article.
Shannon raises several points, such as the appropriation of Deaf culture.
We need to consider that Hollywood and hearing actresses and actors aren't just making money off of their use of the language of the Deaf (ASL), but also off of their use of the lived experiences and struggles of Deaf people—or, at least, approximations of these experiences, as imagined by hearing people.
Why not allow Deaf actresses and actors to portray Deaf characters? Why not allow Deaf actresses and actors to bring their own lived experiences to the role, to deepen the characters they portray?
"If you were asked to take a role of a transgender person, and you weren't transgender, would you take it?"
Hint: the correct answer is "No."
"If you were asked to take a role for a black character, and you weren't black, would you take it?"
Don't do it.
The article contributed to the spread of the hashtag #DeafTalent, to raise awareness of the many talents that get overlooked or willfully ignored, simply because the person is Deaf. (I'm pretty sure there's a word for that... Hang on, let me think of it... Oh yeah, discrimination.)
Unfortunately, the discounting of #DeafTalent doesn't stop at Hollywood. Employment discrimination against Deaf job applicants is a sad reality in all sectors of the workforce.
Youtuber Rikki Poynter, prompted by the same article, shared from personal experience, saying,
"It is very hard for people who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing, unless they live in a very diverse area that is very accepting of Deaf culture, to find jobs. Even the easiest of jobs."
In her video, Poynter responds to the general plethora of hearing actresses and actors in Deaf roles.
Hollywood needs to ask itself what it’s trying to accomplish with movies about Deaf experiences, where the Deaf characters are played by hearing actresses and actors.
If Hollywood is trying to portray Deaf people accurately and fully, then it's missing the mark. If the intention, however, is to portray Deaf people how hearing people imagine them—well, then, I guess job well done.