• Golden Globe Awards

Out of the Archives: Marlee Matlin on Deafness

Marlee Matlin, who won a Golden Globes as Best Actress for Children of Lesser God directed by Randa Haines, spoke to the journalists of the Hollywood Foreign Press in 1986 about growing up deaf.
“I grew up with a hearing family, so we had both speech and sign language mixed together. I can speak, I don’t talk perfectly, but people understand me fairly well if they listen, so there’s no problem really. The sign language that I use is gestural and physical, and most of the time it’s with the hands. I grew up experiencing and feeling, expressing myself visually and gesturally, practicing in front of the mirror, seeing all the emotions.”
“Sign language is more powerful because it encompasses the whole body, and when hearing people in the 1800s banned it, eliminated it altogether, by saying that it was too easy for deaf people, what they meant was that it was too easy for all people. And now, of course, we’re realizing that everyone should communicate how they wish to, and sign language is beautiful because it’s everything.”
“When I was a child, it was difficult, because I hung around a lot of hearing people, and I realized that I wouldn’t be able to speak on the phone like they did, or have conversations with people, or hear music in any way that I wanted to, for example, while I was driving. That wasn’t something that I could do, so I had a lot of anger inside of me. I did not have total resentment against the hearing world, but I wanted to integrate the two worlds, the hearing and the deaf, bring them together. That was one problem that I had as a child, but as I’ve grown up, I’ve accepted the fact of who I am and I’m happy with who I am.”
“When I was small, I remember seeing The Wizard of Oz, and Dorothy is so courageous, she goes out on her own.  But most of what I am is from my parents who cared for me and supported me, from my family, from my friends, who have made me as open as I am.”
“I was wild and outgoing, I went to a public school and I drove a car, I got involved with lots of activities. I’m more open-minded than the character of Sarah is, more willing to talk with people and love people.”
“I don’t like the fact that a long time ago they used hearing people to play deaf people like Jane Wyman did in Johnny Belinda or Patty Duke in The Miracle Worker, and they are certainly very talented actresses, but people shouldn’t have to fake deafness, there are real deaf actors and blind actors, minority actors that don’t have the opportunity to work. I don’t like the fact that a person who is White is playing someone Black or someone Asian. And I’m not trying to show you reverse discrimination or prejudice here, but it’s about time to be open-minded so that anyone could go into acting and show their skill. Acting is not only for hearing White people.”