Actress Marlee Matlin was in town for the Boston Jewish Film Festival and the Ruderman Family Foundation’s Inclusion Summit, where she gave the opening address Sunday.
Matlin, who happens to be deaf, spoke about the importance of diversity in film and television when it comes to disabled characters.
“There are 35 million people in the United States who are deaf and hard of hearing, so it just makes sense that they should be depicted in film and television as complex human beings,” she said in an interview.
“I want to let people know that creating diversity reflects what goes on in the real world and there are so many interesting and wonderful stories, and they don’t have to be about being deaf. There’s only so many stories you can have about ‘oh my God I can’t hear the world,’” Matlin said.
“When I did ‘Children of a Lesser God,’ I was a complete unknown, but Mark Medoff made it a point in his script to say that it had to be played by a deaf person,” she said of the role that earned her an Academy Award for best actress in 1987.
“There is a clear bias. When I won my Oscar, a critic pointed out that I wasn’t acting because I was a deaf person in a deaf role. Since when can’t deaf people have the opportunity to act?”
Matlin is currently shooting a TV show for ABC, “Quantico,” in which she plays an FBI agent.
“What’s nice about the show is that it isn’t about being deaf. So many people say, ‘Oh well how do I write for a deaf person?’ Well just write for a person and make the character deaf, like in real life,” Matlin said. “It would be nice if we didn’t have non-disabled people playing disabled people.”
The Ruderman Foundation has been vocal about non-disabled people being cast as disabled characters, most recently the choice to cast Jake Gyllenhaal as Boston Marathon bombing survivor and amputee Jeff Bauman in “Stronger.”
The foundation’s president, Jay Ruderman , said that the disabled community is the world’s largest minority, making up 20 percent of the population. The two-day Inclusion Summit at the Seaport Hotel and World Trade Center helps bring the community together.