The Academy of Motion Pictures, in its 94 years has given only two awards to actors who are deaf or have a disability. Additionally, in the 68 years since 1952, when the first able-bodied actor was nominated for playing a blind character, 59 able-bodied actors were nominated for acting in a role where they are deaf or have a disability. Of these, nearly half, 27 have won for those roles.
Why has the Academy rewarded the imitation of disability while excluding deaf actors and actors with disabilities? The Academy must stop recognizing and rewarding movies that cast able-bodied actors to take on deaf and disability roles.
- American Sign Language (ASL) Translation of the Letter to the Academy
- The Academy’s new standards, Representation and Inclusion, for Oscars Best Picture eligibility
- Deaf Actors Cast in Movies
- Hearing Actors Who Stole Deaf Roles
- Deaf Created Movies
TRANSCRIPT: Every year, around February and March, awards are given for the best movies and TV shows. People have their preferences on which movies have the best stories, best acting, best special effects, best cinematography, or even the best ending! It is exciting to watch these movies and shows. However, within the deaf and hard of hearing community, it is even more exciting for us to see a deaf, hard of hearing, DeafBlind, Deaf with other disabilities, Deaf Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC), or Deaf LGBTQ actor in movies or shows. Unfortunately, there are not enough roles for deaf actors – especially for deaf BIPOC and LGBTQ actors. This is not right. We need more roles for many different deaf actors. The issue is that too often such roles are stolen and played by hearing and able-bodied actors. This is not right, not authentic, not representative, and not acceptable!
This year, it’s happened again. A movie, Sound of Metal, has two hearing actors that each act as a deaf character. One person plays the lead role, and the other person plays the main supporting role. There are several other deaf actors in the movie and they have smaller roles as part of the ensemble. First, Riz Ahmed is the lead role and he plays a drummer who loses his hearing and struggles with becoming deaf. The main supporting role is a deaf character played by Paul Raci, a hearing Child Of Deaf Adults (CODA) interpreter. This is wrong. In interviews, Paul Raci has repeatedly stated that he just “had to audition for” this role. This role should have been filled by a deaf person, not a hearing person – let alone an interpreter. Paul Raci knew he would “get flak” for it but auditioned for it anyway. Another deaf person auditioned for the same role, the director decided to cast a hearing and able-bodied actor for this deaf role. If Paul Raci didn’t audition, a deaf person would’ve gotten the role! This is wrong. Paul Raci shares his rationale of auditioning because the character is late-deafened from the Vietnam War and didn’t grow up deaf. But a deaf actor could have assumed the role as a person who lost hearing in the Vietnam War, that’s acting. This is not an acceptable excuse.
While directors and hearing actors make these erroneous decisions, we also need to put pressure on Hollywood. Hollywood can make policies and influence how movies can be more inclusive. Hollywood is also responsible for the awards which can motivate directors and actors how they make those decisions.
For example, one of the awards is the Oscars. The Oscars is the regarded as one of the most esteemed awards in Hollywood. The Oscars are given by the Academy of Motion Pictures. In September 2020, the Academy set up new standards to require all nominations for Best Pictures to be inclusive of underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, people who are deaf or have disabilities, LGBTQ+, and women. Their new standards have been controversial but it is in effect. However, their new standards needs to be applied to nominations of actors not just Best Pictures.
We need to look at the Academy’s history. The Academy has given out Oscars for 94 years, yet in all those years, only two major awards were given to actors who are deaf or have disabilities, Harold Russell in 1947 and Marlee Matlin in 1986. That’s it, only two awards in 94 years. In 1952, the Academy, for the first time, nominated a non-disabled actor who played a blind role. Since 1952, for 68 years, the Academy has nominated 59 non-disabled actors for taking on roles that are deaf or disabled. Almost every year! And 27 actors out of 59, almost half, won an Oscar! This encourages hearing and able-bodied actors who want to win an Oscar to think that they have a better chance to win if they play a deaf or disabled role, and for directors to cast non-disabled actors. The Academy is encouraging the wrong motivation. This must stop.
The Sound of Metal movie, as well as Riz Ahmed and Paul Raci, have already gotten awards from other organizations. The Academy has not yet announced nominations for the Oscars. The National Association of the Deaf (NAD) has written a letter to the Academy, and 19 other organizations that are led by deaf, disabled, and interpreters, have signed onto this letter. The letter states everything I just told you and asks the Academy to stop nominating and awarding hearing and non-disabled actors for roles that are deaf or have a disability. The letter also asks the Academy to meet with the organizations who signed on to discuss how to make sure that movies cast authentic actors who are deaf or have a disability, and how to realistically portray the lives of people who are deaf or have disabilities. The standards from September 2020 already includes a requirement to bring experts on the set to ensure appropriate representation of race and culture, but this should include experts on deaf culture and disability life. Experts who are deaf or have a disability must be present on the set to ensure the appropriate representation of any content that involves our community. We must be included. That is the only way to show the authenticity of the roles and the movie.
This old battle continues. The deaf and hard of hearing community, as well as the disability community, have raised these issues for many years and have tried to bring attention to it to change this bad practice. We want more representation in movies and on TV, so that we can see ourselves on the screen. It’s time for us to tell Hollywood to act and change the system. Thank you.