Making History with Marlee Matlin

Making History with Marlee Matlin

April 6, 2024 A Disability Committee Event

On April 6, DGA members gathered at the Guild’s Los Angeles Theater for the Disability Committee’s first event highlighting the contributions of members with a disability in the directorial craft. Making History with Marlee Matlin featured a discussion with the Actress-Director about the making of her episode of the Fox series, Accused, “Ava’s Story.”

The event also served to open a conversation on how to shift Hollywood’s stigma on disabled Directors and creatives and began with welcome from DGA Secretary-Treasurer/Past President Paris Barclay who said, “I have had the pleasure of directing Marlee, so I know her genius firsthand. Her insightful perspectives on communication techniques, directing actors, and crew collaboration I hope will spark a crucial dialogue on dismantling stigmas and empowering disabled Directors and creatives in Hollywood — and propel us towards a more inclusive and equitable industry for all.”

Barclay then introduced Disability Committee Co-Chairs David Nutter and Rachel A. Raimist, who spoke about the Committee’s mission to examine a broad range of issues DGA members with disabilities face on sets and provide recommendations for the National Board to address these matters.

“The work we are doing as a Committee and community will benefit all members. We are all one diagnosis or one accident away from needing more support,” said Raimist. “We are pushing our industry towards greater acceptance and to recognize the value of Directors and Directorial Team Members with disabilities.”

“I was afraid to tell anyone [about my diagnosis],” said Nutter. “I was afraid to let that be out. We all have these times in our lives, and all we have to do is do that. I wanted to share this with you because I want you to know that no matter how you fall, you can always bring yourself back up. Don’t let a disability stop you.”

The gathering also heard from Committee members Directors Jenni Gold, Ashley Eakin and Nandi Bowe, who all individually shared personal stories of resilience and achievement as a disabled member in the entertainment industry and invited members and allies with disabilities to be part of the movement to ignite change.

Following the welcomes and opening statements, actress Geena Davis of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, delivered a keynote address designed to frame the conversation of disability as a key issue in diversity and inclusion.

“We have a lot of work to do in intersectional representation – with characters with disabilities, LGBTQIA+, different gender identities, older characters, and different body types – we have a long way to go before we reflect the actual population which 19% of it, is with individuals with disabilities.”

Then Matlin engaged in a conversation moderated by Director Siân Heder, where she covered topics including communication techniques, directing actors and collaboration with her crew. Assisted by her longtime sign language interpreter Jack Jason, Matlin said, “I made sure that each actor had their own interpreter, so they all knew who was talking and who was interpreting. I had two interpreters for me – that would switch off – because interpreting is a lot to do all day so they would take turns. I also had a deaf ASL coach who helped make things run smoothly in terms of the script and what was signed for each actor, both deaf and hearing. It worked very well for the crew who had never worked with deaf actors before. I wanted to make sure they were all listening to me and for me to give them a great deal of trust.”

Deaf since she was 18 months old, Matlin made history by becoming the first deaf performer, as well as the youngest person in the Best Actress category, to win an Oscar for her debut in Randa Haines’ 1986 romantic drama, Children of a Lesser God. She was also part of the SAG Award-winning cast of Siân Heder’s 2021 feature, CODA.

See video from this event in the gallery below.

About the Committee

The mission of the Disability Committee is to examine a broad range of issues DGA members with disabilities face on sets, with the goal of developing recommendations to address these matters. In 2023, DGA President Lesli Linka Glatter, announced its creation as a provisional committee, whose members would lead work to destigmatize disability as a way to empower other members to feel comfortable with disclosing their disability identity and push the industry towards greater acceptance of Directors and Directorial Team members with disabilities. In 2024, the Committee was designated a permanent committee by the DGA National Board.

Pictures & Video
photos by Elisa Haber
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