JTA — In one month, it will be 30 years since Marlee Matlin became the only deaf actress (and actress) to win an Oscar. In 1986, at the age of 21, she starred in “Les enfants du silence” as a cleaner in a school for deaf children. She walked away with the Oscar for Best Actress this year.
Matlin, 51, was rewarded this week from the Ruderman Family Foundation for his activism on behalf of people with disabilities.
The actress, who is a spokeswoman for the National Association on the Deaf, will receive the $100,000 prize in June during a trip to Israel.
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“Marlee Matlin is the embodiment of a force that has broken barriers and changed perceptions of people with disabilities around the world,” said Jay Ruderman, president of the family’s foundation.
“His long and acclaimed career in Hollywood is a shining example of the value of including people with disabilities in our society. »
He added, “We know Marlee will continue to advocate for changing reality and help build a more just and welcoming world.”
Matlin made headlines last year after media outlets alleged that Donald Trump repeatedly called her a “retarded” woman during appearances on his show “The Celebrity Apprentice” in 2011 and in 2012. She responded on social media and called Trump’s alleged comments. as a scoundrel.
On the eve of his award, Matlin gave an email interview to JTA. She spoke about the impact of Trump’s comments, his activism and his Jewish roots.
JTA: Do you enjoy being a leader in disability and inclusion? Is this a role you are actively seeking?
Matlin: I would like to say that I am an actress that people know and that I make a living from acting. But I’m also someone who, by my example or my thoughts, has helped change the way people look at the deaf or those who live with what people call “a handicap” (I like to say difference of handa portmanteau for disability and difference) just being who I am.
It’s a role I didn’t ask for, but I couldn’t stay silent, because for me, the solutions to inequalities were very simple: to remove the barriers that prevent people like me from living on an equal footing with ours. peers.
But unfortunately the obstacles were not only physical, but also mental. And these barriers are even harder to change. So I stand up and share my thoughts.
You have acted in so many films and series that it is difficult to count them. Do you have a favorite role or experience?
It will sound cliche, but it is for my first film that I have the most appreciation – “Les enfants du silence”.
I remember every moment of the movie and the shooting like it was yesterday. This is because it happened at the most crucial moment of my life, apart from having children and meeting my husband. I went from suburban teenager to Hollywood actress in a month.
Last year, you participated in the first roundtable on disability inclusion in Hollywood, an industry in which 95% of characters are played by able-bodied actors. Did this event cause a sensation, and to your knowledge, has Hollywood made progress on this problem?
I hope that this time Hollywood will not be more “deaf” to the fact that hearing impaired and disabled people can participate in these discussions. I think the Ruderman Foundation has been a big part of that change. But when I won my Oscar 30 years ago, people said that the industry would now be more accepting and create more deaf or disabled characters because they represent the 20% of the population that movies and TV shows they do not reflect them.
But what I said at the beginning of my career still applies: many people think that I live in a silent world because I am deaf. But as long as there is inequality, the last thing you will hear coming out of my mouth is silence. And luckily the Ruderman Foundation helps make some noise.
As long as there is inequality, the last thing you will hear coming out of my mouth is silence
What difficulties do you face as a Deaf actress in terms of acceptance in modern culture and are things easier than they were in the 1980s when you started your career?
Difficulty is the lot of all Hollywood actors. It’s hard to keep up, even without being deaf. But thanks to technology, social networks and the evolution of mindsets, things are easier for me.
And yet, I still see non-deaf actors playing deaf characters. So I keep doing what I do every day. I do my best in all my roles to show what a deaf person can do.
President Trump has been embroiled in several scandals involving people with disabilities. In addition to the harassment you received when you were on his show, he has also been accused of making fun of his reporter New York Times Serge Kovaleski last year. Do you think that the attitudes of people in the United States toward people with disabilities have been affected by these incidents, in a good way or in a bad way? Where do we stand in promoting inclusion?
We have to admit that we are not in a 100% comprehensive system and especially in the cinema industry. But I haven’t read or heard that Americans’ opinion of people with disabilities has declined as a result of President Trump’s unacceptable comments.
In fact, his words, and the fact that some are slow to realize that inequalities persist, have highlighted and reignited a new fire in the fight for equality.
As Natalie Portman aptly said at the women’s rally in Los Angeles: “Thank you for starting the revolution.” I apply this to all who face challenges, and especially those of us who society labels as disabled.
About a year ago, you told JTA that you enjoyed going to suburban Chicago synagogue when you were young. Are you currently involved in a Jewish community?
I incorporated Judaism into my home and incorporated it into the lives of my husband and my in-laws who are Catholic. When it comes to holidays and traditions, we are equal.
Unfortunately, where I live, there is no synagogue with a rabbi who speaks sign language, and while I’m sure I could go with an interpreter, I prefer to take what I’ve learned, the richness of Judaism, and the culture I have. my parents rooted me and share it with my family and create the most beautiful home I can.
And besides, I will make my lifelong dream come true, which I have focused on since my mitzvah. I will be traveling to Israel this summer for the first time, on behalf of the Ruderman Foundation. And when I go there, I will go see my family and go to all the holy places.
I am eager for it!