Gerard Williams' official statement (5/8/08)
As a hearing actor who has been involved with the Deaf community in a
number of capacities for over 5 years, I feel have a unique perspective on this issue. Ultimately I find the decision to cast any hearing actor as a deaf character is damaging to the Deaf community and the film itself.
The idea that a hearing person could immerse himself in Deaf culture to the point that he can accurately portray a Deaf person is ludicrous. This reduces Deaf culture to a set of easily learned behaviors and mannerisms, rather than a full rich community. A hearing person can no more play a Deaf person than a white person could play a black person. While it might be interesting to watch, it is insulting to the community and damaging to the film.
Beyond the challenge of an accurate portrayal, this will also cheapen the film to the point of novelty, where we can see "a hearing actor play a deaf man". This type of voyeurism would detract from any subtle nuance of character. A Deaf actor in this role would be able to focus on who Matt Hamill is (a person), rather than what he is (Deaf).
At a broader level this is cultural sabotage. There are many skilled Deaf actors in the community today who would love the opportunity to play a role suited to their cultural background. Sadly there are not many of these roles, and now we have one more that has been eliminated, despite the fact that it is perfectly suited to a Deaf actor.
I am a hearing actor who signs fluently. My co-workers are Deaf, my fiancee is Deaf, I have studied Deaf culture in both immersion and academic settings. And through that experience I have learned that I will never play a Deaf character. It saddens me to realize that only by this type of intense study and immersion could one realize that, thus opening the door for people who do not know better to cross this boundary.
These, however, are just my humble thoughts. I would be happy to discuss them with anyone interested.
Theatre Arts Department