Monique Holt's official statement (5/8/08)
I am an actress who happens to be Deaf and uses American Sign Language. I have been acting since 1982. I became a member of Equity in 1991, of SAG in 1992, and of AFTRA in 1994. I graduated with a BFA in Acting from NYU/TSOA. I am now working towards my MFA in Theatre at Towson University. With school, I had to move away from TV and Film but I still do some commercials and original stage work.
I am also a Gallaudet University Presidential Fellow and Adjunct Professor in its Theatre Arts Department. As a mentor and role model, I try to empower younger Deaf actors/actresses and Deaf students majoring in Acting.
I have been acting professionally for more than 15 years. I had to work hard to get where I am. I have been around many talented Deaf actors and actresses. They share the same struggle. They are beautiful and talented but they are not cast because they use sign language. A different language, a language other than spoken English. That is our stigma.
We are trying to get lead Deaf characters to be played by Deaf actors/actresses. But often they are given to hearing actors/actresses or to Marlee Matlin because she has an Oscar. Not many of us have Oscars. But some of us are much better than hearing actors/actresses and especially at portraying a signing Deaf character.
I first read your letter with open mind. Your letter helps me understand where you are coming from. I understand you are offering two other Deaf roles and are actively seeking Deaf actors/actresses. But it is not the enough.
Trying to find the middle ground with creative teams and with casting directors is complicated. This is a business.
I am discouraged and feel the kind of thinking that subverts Deaf actors cannot continue. It is important to get Deaf actors to create their own work for themselves and starring themselves. For those projects developed by others, it is important to educate the creative team and casting directors that Deaf characters that use ASL should go to Deaf actors/actresses who have the talent to do it. ASL is not an accent you pick up in a month. By way of example, I watched BLOW with two Spanish-speaking friends - one from the Dominican Republic and one from Columbia - they laughed at the movie. The Spanish was a jumble. Movies need to engage the audience; elements that take them out of the story ruin the story.
Deaf actors/actresses are in the same boat as you are: yearning for quality roles and projects. Often Deaf characters are portrayed as pitiful, unfulfilled individuals with lots of baggage... only a very few Deaf roles are delicious, but they are not offered to dynamic Deaf ASL fluent actors/actresses. They are often only considered for the leftover roles.
There are a number of Deaf actors/actresses looking for a job; it is a constant struggle. They, like me, would love to be considered for a role, to play a character, but we are consigned to Deaf characters. The constant avoidance of Deaf actors for Deaf roles cuts us out entirely. I hope you understand why Deaf actors/actresses are upset to learn that a hearing actor portrays the leading Deaf character.
So in short, I am not opposed to the film itself but I wanted you to think about the impact of this choice. What does it say about you as an actor, as a writer and as a member of a creative team casting a hearing actor with minimal exposure to ASL in a leading Deaf character?
I wish you luck.
Theatre Arts Department