Marlee Matlin Won Her "Best Actress" Academy Award 30 Years Ago

February 27, 2017



Deaf actress Marlee Matlin won her Oscar award 30 years ago — the Best Actress award for her role in “Children of a Lesser God.” She was 21 when she won the award. That is easily one of the greatest achievements of the Deaf community. 


There was an article last weekend on LA Times about her and her experience winning the award, and a discussion of disabled people in the TV/film industry. 


She said that the day after winning the award, she read two negative articles saying her win was a “pity vote,” that she was not “acting” because she was a deaf person playing a deaf role, and that she would never work again because she was deaf and did not speak. Marlee said she felt like the columnists defined who she was — that she was disappointed, but put it aside to look forward to what was next.  


Marlee said in another article, on Washington Post, that she is the only second person with a tisalbity to win the award. The other was from 1947 — Harold Russell — who while in the Army lost both of his hands in a freak explosion — won two Oscars for his role in “The Best Years of our Lives.” 


Marlee said not much has changed today — pointing out that in TV and film, only 1 percent of roles is a character with a disability, and of that one percent, only five percent of the actors for those roles are disabled in real life. She said she encourages producers to create roles that doesn’t dwell on the disability but to create smart and creative roles that happens to cast a disabled person. 


She said she doesn’t “get scripts every day” — that sometimes people tell her that they don’t know how to write for her, that they don’t want to see subtitles if she is signing, and doesn’t want the audience to be uncomfortable with the voice. 


At the end of the article, Marlee suggested the idea that Deaf people should create content ourselves, since we have various video/internet streaming services. 


Marlee recently received a $100,000 award from the Ruderman Family Foundation — the Morton E. Ruderman Award in Inclusion. The foundation is focused on advocating and advancing the inclusion of people with disabilities.


In giving the award, the foundation said she is a lifelong activist for people with disabilities, has 59 acting credits, a Golden Globes win, and 14 nominations for various awards over her career. Nice honor — a previous recipient was former Iowa Senator Tom Harkin for his role in the ADA act.


The foundation created a nice video with clips of Hollywood celebrities congratulating Marlee on her win — they included Whoopi Goldberg, Arsenio Hall, Henry Winkler, and others. 


Congratulations, Marlee!

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