Last week, our country celebrated its “Deaf Awareness Week”, an annual event which we have been doing since 1991 when then-President Corazon Aquino signed Proclamation 829. All schools for the deaf as well as government agencies are encouraged to promote the cause of deaf people in the Philippines.
Local media also participated in the awareness campaign. One of which is ABS-CBN, the country’s largest media and entertainment network, wherein one of their popular drama anthology “Maala-ala Mo Kaya” made an episode of a deaf letter-sender named CJ Reynaldo who was able to beat the odds by passing and graduating in the best university (University of the Philippines) despite his condition. See the video trailer/highlight below:
Prior to its airing late Saturday evening of November 10, the episode created a buzz in the social media within the Filipino deaf community. There were numerous sharing and commenting with ABS-CBN leading the way on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. We were all glued to the TV screen when it was shown. I even made an FB post about my experience watching it.
The story was very good and realistic. Hearing Actor Nash Aguas did a really swell job in portraying a very challenging deaf role. He acted very natural and convincing. With the support from her hearing mother played by the very talented Ms. Eula Valdez, the team really did their homework of studying sign language. Congratulations are in order for the MMK Group!!!
I am really satisfied with how they handled the story. However, what caught my attention was a Facebook post of a popular deaf actor and my friend Romalito Mallari after he watched the recent episode. He said,
Congrtz to CK’s story in mmk but i dnt accepted for hearing to be used deaf actor as a pretend person. I want see real new deaf actor. We proud of deaf actor. Sad! At least we watch u to make us inspired story. I hope one day deaf actor as well and we bravo u. Salute!
I have made a few blog posts about Romalito here when I promoted his movie “Dinig Sana Kita”. He is a very talented deaf artist. In fact, he even won a Best New Actor Award portraying the deaf lead role in this movie.
Come to think of it, his sentiment is right. Why did they not hire a real deaf actor to portray a deaf role? Perhaps the studio has its own valid reason for getting a hearing person to do a deaf role. But I felt sad and pitiful that deaf actors missed the only opportunity wherein they can work. Sure, they hired deaf actors to act as CJ’s friends and classmates. But their parts are too small and somewhat insignificant.
In the book, “For Hearing People Only, The Most Popular Handbook about the Deaf Community” of Deaf Life Press/MSM Productions, Ltd, a question was raised.
“Do you have a problem
with hearing performers
playing Deaf roles?”
For which the handbook author replied:
In the early days of Hollywood, Deaf roles were invariably played by hearing performers. Many of these characterizations were stereotyped (and would be considered offensive nowadays). Deaf actors and actresses began breaking into TV and film during the 1970s, scoring important advances—e.g., returning characters, lead characters, getting ASL-speaking Deaf performers in background roles. With these advances have come a demand for authenticity. A hearing performer who takes a Deaf role (typically with a crash course in ASL and Deaf mannerisms) is rarely convincing. Every Deaf role given to a hearing performer represents a lost opportunity. We believe that Deaf performers should be cast in Deaf roles.
American cinema and TV dramas are now providing significant opportunities to deaf actors. Who would never miss the Oscar awardee Marlee Matlin, CJ Jones of Baby Driver and the now-famous child star Millicent Simmonds of a 2018 sleeper hit, A Quiet Place? They all portrayed deaf roles.
ABS-CBN might argue that they have no time to train a deaf actor to do the role on such short shooting days, or they might have difficulty finding a Filipino deaf actor to cast in the role. But I don’t believe that they have fully exhausted their options on this.
As the book says, “Every Deaf role given to a hearing performer represents a lost opportunity.” I may also add that, “deaf actors portraying deaf roles not only provide work opportunities for them but also advance the authentic awareness of the deaf people.”
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