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Marlee Matlin’s Brief But Spectacular take on deaf actors in Hollywood

Transcript

Judy Woodruff: At the Academy Awards this coming Sunday, the film "CODA" is nominated for three awards, including best picture.

One of the main actors in "CODA," Marlee Matlin, has brought strong characters to the screen for 35 years.

Tonight, she shares her Brief But Spectacular take on uplifting deaf actors and others in the disability community in Hollywood.

Marlee Matlin, Actress (through translator): I remember when I was about or 9.

I was watching TV, and I remember seeing a deaf actor on TV signing, speaking my language. And I remember thinking, boy, I love -- I'd love to act. If I can see her acting on television, why can't I do that when I grow up?

When I won my Academy Award back in 1987, people in my community, my deaf community, were saying to me, Marlee, you need to speak up, because you have to be an advocate for us. You have to do this and this, this and that on our behalf. And I was just 21. I didn't understand what all that meant.

"CODA" is about a family of four, three who are deaf, and the youngest daughter, who's hearing, and they're called the child of deaf adults, that's why it's called "CODA." And it's about the journey that this family goes through. And it's a very positive view of deaf people, and it's a reflection of what happens in real life.

It's just a feel-good movie. My experience on this set was really completely different than something I have been accustomed to. And the reason is, is because most of the people signed. The crew learned to sign. There were deaf actors other than myself that I could involve myself in conversations with, whether it was at lunch or just talking between setups.

There were interpreters everywhere. It was like one big family.

I had a conversation with a few people who let me know about the studio's thoughts of casting Troy Kotsur's character, Frank, with someone famous, hearing man, playing deaf. And I thought, hmm, it's not happening on my watch.

And I said, I'm out. I'm out of the film if you should have a hearing actor to play deaf.

I have been saying recently that being deaf is not a costume. And, by that, I mean for hearing actors to play deaf, because hearing actors don't have the experience of what it's like to live with disability. They haven't lived it.

I know that people say, well, what is acting, then? And I get it. And I could play a cop or I could play a mother. I could play a teacher. I could play whatever it is, but you can't play someone deaf or disabled. It doesn't come off as real.

I think people in the entertainment business don't give the disability and deaf community the time to be able to communicate and talk about how important it is to collaborate, to be able to give them a chance to learn where we all come from.

I'm Marlee Matlin, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on deaf actors in Hollywood.

Judy Woodruff: Thank you, Marlee Matlin. And we are going to let that message sink in.

And you can watch more Brief But Spectacular videos online at PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

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