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Marlee Matlin Beats Kidz Bop At Sundance Amid Claims They Passed Deaf Talent Over Interpreter Fees: “F***ing Ridiculous”

Marlee Matlin no doubt had a busy Friday morning here in Park City, where she sits on the jury of the US Dramatic Competition for this year’s Sundance Film Festival. However, she managed to sneak in a few minutes of an oh-so-common pastime: scrolling social media. What she saw made her furious.

“I was looking on my Facebook page and happened to see a mother of a friend of mine, a young girl who is deaf,” describes Matlin as he sits opposite festival participants Randall Park, Zackary Drucker and Alethea Arnaquq-Bari on The Big Conversation panel : complicating representation in Main Street’s Filmmaker Lodge. “She was involved in a show called Kidz Bop. Her name is Savannah and she was very excited. This is the first time you’ve seen a deaf girl on that show, and I was so excited about her.

The 12-year-old boy, introduced as Savvy, was the subject of a People magazine article published last month when it was announced that she would be joining the Kidz Bop family by being booked to “appear in a series of picture-in-picture content, where she will appear in the corner of music videos, with using ASL to perform hit songs like ‘Meet Me At Our Spot’.”

“As Kidz Bop Kid, I am proud to be able to make a difference in the lives of deaf children by sharing my passion for music with them,” Savvy told the magazine. “My goal is to show them how beautiful music is, whether you can hear it or not. You just have to feel it in your heart.”

Matlin went on to say that the mother asked her to pass on the behind-the-scenes drama that has taken place. She claimed that all of the Kidz Bop kids were booked to tour, but Savannah had not been asked to join. According to her mother, “The producers used her solely to promote the tour … because they wouldn’t let her on the tour because they said the interpreter was too expensive,” Matlin claimed of her exchange. “What do you mean too expensive? Too expensive to pay the interpreter. Too expensive to give her access. That is ridiculous.”

The Hollywood Reporter reached out to Kidz Bop for comment and have not heard back as of this writing.

Matlin made it a point to say it was her first time addressing it publicly and she hoped “the news outlets” would pick up on the story and report how this young girl was “robbed of her dream and for something doing that she loves and she is so good at it.”

Matlin said it was an example of an all-too-common occurrence. She used the anecdote as a way to launch a recent story from her own career, as she too was denied a gig because she had access to an interpreter, coming from an Oscar-winning actress and someone who starred in last year’s best movie. photo Oscar winner, CODA.

She explained that she got a four-episode arc on a television show where she played a deaf judge. “It wasn’t written for a deaf actor,” she noted, adding that she spent three to four weeks researching the part, trying to find a real-life example of a deaf judge. She met with the executive producer to discuss the role. During the chat, she asked how they wanted to imagine the courtroom with the help of an interpreter, a necessity for playing such a character.

It wasn’t something the show had thought about, she said. “He said, ‘Well, let me call you back,'” she continued. “And half an hour later he told my agent that the role had been taken off the table. That said, there is still a lack of education.”

Besides, she concluded, “That show has been canceled. Karma.”

The exclamation mark at the end of the story elicited laughter and applause from the packed crowd in the Filmmaker Lodge. According to the official Sundance blurb, the panel is designed to “give successful creators influenced by Hollywood’s current (and sometimes false or performative) interest in diversity in Hollywood to discuss the struggles, blessings, doubts and responsibilities of balancing of more grassroots, edgy artistic spaces.”

Bird Runningwater was booked to moderate, but dropped out after “getting into something,” according to his replacement Adam Piron, Sundance’s Indigenous Program director. Piron led an insightful discussion where each panelist was able to share their experiences navigating Hollywood, their take on the current state of inclusion and where the industry is heading.

For Park, here with his directorial debut shortcomings, he pointed out that a single story cannot represent an entire community. “The answer to that is just a lot more stories and a lot more stories from different perspectives within a community created by people from that community,” he said, adding, “You get more perspectives and you don’t have that pressure of having to represent everyone .”

Even with the surge of projects happening in Hollywood, Park noted that he feels the cap is coming.

For her part, Drucker, who is here as co-director of the documentary about trans sex workers The stroll, explained Hollywood’s complicated history with trans content. For example, she recently re-watched the Felicity Huffman starrer Trans America from 2005. “At the time, we thought it was very empathetic to the trans experience, and to see it today is very shocking.”

Drucker went on to explain that she was close to the “trans-tipping point” that came in 2014 thanks to the arrival of the Emmy Award-winning Transparent. “I worked as a producer for six years Transparent and helped kind of guide that moment when trans people became visible,” she continued. With that, there was a “direct and deliberate” effort to create more diverse and robust representations of trans life and therefore “trans sex workers were really taken out of the conversation.”

It’s not something that can be ignored, Drucker said, because “everyone who’s been in the trans life since that time has a relationship with sex work,” and that includes notable names. “So many trans actors in Hollywood even have sex work relationships that they don’t talk about” because of the pejorative lens directed at it.

With her Sundance roster, as well as the fellow party title Kokomo town about four black trans sex workers — a film Lena Waithe recently boarded as executive producer — Drucker had hope. “We’re at a point with representation where we’re embracing complexity,” she said, capturing the title of the talk. “We allow a more dimensional approach to understanding marginalized people.”

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