Deaf Acting in Hollywood

Kai Wetterau, Staff Writer

Deaf people have long been hidden from being recognized in Hollywood, which has just recently changed. These actors and actresses are finally being thrust into the limelight after almost 93 years of absence. Their history and presence in the acting community is something not well known or celebrated enough.

With the original advent of film, the American Deaf community in particular flourished, mainly due to the lack of sound coming from any motion pictures at the time. Those hard of hearing were finally able to use these archaic videos to more accurately communicate with the audience, either through pantomime or American Sign Language (ASL). One famous deaf actor from this time period was Granville Redmond, who was in many films along with his coworker Charlie Chaplin, and was even featured in A Dog’s Life, one of the many cinema classics both starring and being directed by Chaplin. This whole “golden era” for those with impaired hearing strongly empowered many to fight off efforts by other American groups to end the use of ASL as a whole in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Now, in modern times, the Deaf acting community has been thrust into the limelight once again. One such example of this is with the longtime show, The Simpsons, which has recently revealed that they will be incorporating an actor who is hard of hearing into one of their episodes. The actor’s character will be a deaf character who is fluent in ASL and so will use it throughout the episode. This will allow for a new slew of jokes to be used as well as the addition of proper representation. The new addition of someone who speaks in ASL will surely shake things up, as characters in The Simpsons only have four fingers, meaning some of the words or movements will have to be altered. The episode in question will be titled The Sound of Bleeding Gums, and is planned to focus on Lisa Simpson learning about the deaf son of Lisa’s longtime favorite saxophonist, Bleeding Gums Murphy, who has since passed away in past seasons of the show.

Another major win for the Deaf community in Hollywood were the numerous victories of the award-winning movie CODA. The acronym CODA, which stands for “Child of a Deaf Adult,” largely characterizes the film and its premise, which is about the everyday life of a hearing daughter with two deaf parents. CODA won a total of three Oscars at this year’s Academy Awards; the biggest were Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor, with the latter being the first time an actor who is hard of hearing has ever won an Oscar. This marks a momentous occasion in feature-length films, where it can become common for deaf people to be involved with any sort of movie.

The reappearance of deaf people in the film industry has gotten many students happy and open to supporting these different types of movies or television shows. One such person, freshman Laila Fonseca, is quite excited for films produced and greatly contributed to by the Deaf community.

“I’m very hopeful for these shows, as they reveal a new inclusive age for Hollywood,” Fonseca said. “This will very well mean more types of action, suspense, drama, and comedy for all of us in the audience to enjoy!” 

Sharing these thoughts was sophomore Brandon Lee, who was surprised but interested in deaf acting.

“Deaf acting is definitely something that intrigues me, which opens up many storylines that haven’t ever been explored before,” said Lee. “While this is exciting, I am a bit worried about keeping things real and respectful, but if things are done right, I think things will go great.”In total, deaf people in acting have had long leaps back into fame but can still go further down the road. The future is bright, and there’s so much to look forward to and to look back on. This Simpsons episode and CODA are just a few examples of the large deaf contribution to Hollywood, but surely are some of the greatest.