Hear-washing and deaf-face in mainstream media

"We are familiar with the repellent days of 'blacking up' – the disabled actors' equivalent is 'cripping up', a term used by acting activists to highlight that it is not acceptable for a non-disabled actor to mimic impairments, then win an Oscar." -- Penny Pepper, Jan. 2019.

Hear-washing (coined in early August 2015) refers to movie studio's practice of casting hearing or hearing-identity actors in roles of Deaf people. There are plenty of Deaf talents.

Examples of casting hearing actors in Deaf roles are: Julianne Moore as old Rose in Wonderstruck, Ally Andrews casting Kiernan Shipka in The Silence (2019), Henry Zaga as deaf-mute character Nick Andros in the The Stand series (2020), and many.

"... Unfortunately, as soon as she [Julianne Moore] started playing the Deaf role, my body ached (like it always does whenever I see a hearing actor play a deaf character) all over." -- Jules Dameron. FB, October 21, 2017.

Deaf people speak out against hearing actors portraying a deaf role. It's a tantamount to Caucasian actors painting their white faces black to play Black persons. When white face-blacked people are casted to play a Black character that outraged Black people, then people would commonly say, "It's called acting!" It's utterly unacceptable.

A male white abled hearing person made an argument in his post that reflect a common thought of some such people: "That's why it's called 'acting'. ... have all the right to hire whoever you want for that character." Other common thoughts are such as "business and money.. he did his research... Should only murderers be cast as murderers? It's called acting. Acting. Acting."

It's not just about acting. This weaves with a systemic oppression and discrimination (audism, racism, sexism, and so on). Social justice is called for.

Actors can play roles of a police officer, a mother, a monster/father, a terminator, and so on. But, they cannot play roles of a Black person (when they are not POC), a Deaf person (when they have no Deafhood), a woman (when they are male), and so on.

Someone made a comment to a male Deaf Black filmmaker/advocate, "I assume you were also vocal about a black actress playing Anne Boleyn?" It's not the same thing. One can adapt a character, but not physically adapt a person of identity. When a Black actor (e.g. Jodie Turner-Smith) is casted to play Anne Bolyn, she is still Black in her role (not painting her black face white), not played by a white person painting her white face black as a Black Anne Bolyn. So is, if a Deaf actor is casted to play (Deaf) Anne Bolyn, speaking ASL, then she is still Deaf in her role, not played by a hearing actor who has no Deafhood. In this vein, a male actor doesn't play a pregnant woman.

The bottom of line is that it's not about acting. It's about social justice in the acting world. There are lines that actors can't cross when choosing roles in terms of de-marginalization (inclusitivy, equality, and diversity), employment (again equality), and proper representation (experience and image).

Like the disability community, Deaf people have had enough of it with their struggle with Hollywood and mainstream media. At the same time, there are professionals in the media industry out there who are aware of the issues and are genuinely committed to making a change.

Deaf Talents

These performances, films, and other media show a good example of inclusitivy and diversity with Deaf performers in them.

Deaf West Theatre's Spring Awakening had mixed deaf and hearing actors in its production. It's a beautiful, successful show.

Edgar Wright casted a Deaf African-American actor CJ Jones to play the African American Deaf elderly character in the latest movie Baby Driver (2017). Bravo to Edgar Wright who is himself glad with the right decision. It's a positive sign of time.

Director John Krasinski cast deaf actress Millicent Simmons in the role of deaf character Regan Abbot for The Quiet Place (2018). Fantastically, Simmons taught ASL to others on the film's set.

Related posts

ASL sign for hearwashing in the ASL dictionary.