It’s been barely a week since Super Bowl 50. The Deaf/deaf community eagerly anticipated the event with Lady Gaga clutching her heart and singing beautifully while Marlee Matlin performed the American Sign Language (ASL) version of the U.S. National Anthem expressively. The only problem was that although those in the stadium could see Marlee Matlin signing on the monitor, she was not viewable for those watching the game at home except for a momentary flash.
Many in the Deaf community interpreted this as a sign of disrespect. Even though Marlee Matlin wasn’t visible to home viewers, the program was captioned. But social media is filled with comments from people who felt showing her on the monitor to home viewers was about so much more than accessibility.
Marlee Matlin was the first person from the Deaf community to ever win an Academy Award. I don’t think it is unfair to say many people in the mainstreamed hearing community have little relatable experience with persons who rely on ASL to communicate. The first thing people will tell you is they remember her amazing performance in “Children Of A Lesser God.” So she often symbolizes what others perceive as a relatable example of a Deaf person.
If you look at every minority in the United States, persons with disabilities is the last frontier to be acknowledged. In this presidential election year, candidates are vying for the support of women, people of color, gays and the Latino population, but who is even talking about being the candidate for persons with disabilities? The Deaf are often invisible along with others with what we know as persons with disabilities.
Marlee Matlin’s presence at Super Bowl 50 is a reminder that people in the Deaf community exist. They watch football. They care if they are acknowledged as a valid member of our society with a right to a life of dignity. So showing her face signing to people across the country and around the world says yes, we do exist! We are here watching the game with you!
Aside from being an actor, Marlee Matlin has shown the world she is very human. She has acknowledged her need to check into the Betty Ford clinic for substance abuse. She has implied she was abused physically in a relationship and she implied she was sexually abused as a child.
If you look at the clips from her acceptance speech for her Academy Award, she was at 21 years old the youngest to ever receive the award. To me, over the years she has developed into a more confident woman who appears very comfortable in her own skin, and part of her beauty is her expressiveness in signing.
On her website, www.marleematlin.com, here is what she says about ASL:
“The opportunity to communicate in sign language, one of the most beautiful languages in the world, is an advantage that deaf people enjoy. It’s a language that combines several elements at once with a simple hand movement and facial expression: meaning, affect, time and duration. It’s just so beautiful that printed or spoken words can’t begin to describe it.”
She is the author of several books including her 2009 memoir entitled “I’ll Scream Later” which is named after her response to learning she received an Academy Award while recuperating in the Betty Ford Center.
Marlee Matlin is married to a police officer and has four children. Her down-to-earth approach, and her story is one of the struggles as a human being who knows the plight of the Deaf community and turned it into empowerment. Her face on the monitor reminds viewers the Deaf community exists rather than invisible. And a presence and voice in our society is what many Deaf individuals feel is needed.