The Lion King ASL Discrimination Suit: The Deaf/ASL Community Reacts

Earlier this month, Keith Wann, a performance artist and long-time sign language interpreter for the Deaf on Broadway, filed a lawsuit against Theater Development Fund for rescinding its job offer for him to interpret a single performance of “The Lion King” because he is white and the actors for whom he would have been interpreting are Black, and thus did not “match the cultural and physical representation on stage.” (Copy of the lawsuit here)

“There’s a big reaction and controversy in the Deaf community over it,” reports Alex Abenchuchan in the video below, a segment of The Daily Moth, a news program for and by Deaf people that’s presented in American Sign Language (ASL) with English subtitles. 

Abenchuchan, the Daily Moth creator and host, recounts the story, interviews Wann, and sifts through social media to present several reactions, pro and con, from Deaf people and ASL interpreters. For example, BlPOC interpreter Tiffany Hill signs “It’s not about the color of the skin. It is the culture.” 

Links to the articles and Instagram posts mentioned in the video

NY Post

Fox News

Instagram interview with Tiffany Hill

Instagram post from Akilah English

The video, posted yesterday on YouTube, has itself gotten dozens of comments:

“AK 565” writes: “What TDF should’ve done was to include a check for Mr. Wann’s full fee and made the letter one of apology. That likely would’ve solved the problem.” 

Yevre Sew: “RID [Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf Inc] code of professional conduct clearly states in tenet 4.0 “Respect for Consumers” – Guiding Principle: Interpreters are expected to honor consumer preferences in the selection of interpreters and interpreting dynamics while recognizing the realities of qualifications, availability, and situation. That is what Keith Wann should have done. When the Black Deaf community expressed its preference for a black interpreter, Keith as a white man should have graciously accepted the request and promptly resigned from the position.”

Nomie: “CODA [Child of Deaf Adults] ally here! Having a black Deaf mother and father the last thing either of them complained about was whether the interpreter at my school productions was black or not. 

More from social media:

Sir Elton John?Tim Rice? Aren’t they white “colonizers”? Are you just trolling at this point? So only black ASL interpreters can sign a song that was written and performed by white British musicians in a Walt “Disney” (who is also white) Musical? Please have a good day,🤟y’all.

— SoniCoda (@Kahpwn) November 16, 2022

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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