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Lauren Ridloff Is Making Space for More Deaf Actors, One Enlightening Conversation at a Time

Born deaf to hearing parents Lauren Ridloff was 8 years old when she saw Children of a Lesser God in theaters. The 1986 drama long considered a breakthrough for the deaf community and for Marlee Matlin who won an Oscar a first for a deaf actor impressed the young girl. My parents felt that the power of representation was more important than the fact that the film was Rrated says Ridloff who coincidentally got her start in a Broadway revival of Children of a Lesser God before landing coveted roles in The Walking Dead and Eternals in which she broke ground as Marvels first deaf superhero. My eyes were covered for some wearing and some of the hot scenes but my eyes were open to seeing deaf people and deaf culture represented on the big screen.

Similarly Ridl offs youngest son Wyatt who is also deaf was 8 years old when he witnessed actor Troy Kotsur become the first deaf man to win an Oscar for his role in the 2021 film CODA 35 years after Matlin historic win. CODA which stands for child of deaf adult tells the coming of age story of Ruby the only hearing person in her deaf family who grapples with helping her family struggling fishing business and pursuing her passion for music. I attended the after parties that night and people kept congratulating me so in a way I felt like a winner too says Ridl off. Does that mean we have to wait another 35 years though I hope not Change is happening but not fast enough.

Though Ridl off is aware of how her own onscreen work has encouraged Hollywood to amplify the stories and use the talent of deaf people the 44 year old Tony Award nominee says her daily interactions with curious and receptive people feel like the greatest impact she can make right now.Here she opens up about helping audiences shift perspectives and using her platform to push forward meaningful change.

When I join a production oftentimes the mindset is This woman is deaf. What does she need What does she want Lets give her what she needs and what she wants because its her issue its her challenge. But I have been deaf all my life so its not a challenge. The only time my deafness becomes a challenge is when I am around people who do not know any better. Their ignorance is a challenge not my deafness. If they shifted that mindset to What do we need to work together I believe that would take a lot of the burden off deaf actors who are constantly thinking Wait am I the one who is causing all these issues

There simply is not enough deaf presence in the storytelling process. People are uncomfortable with whats unfamiliar so when I focus on the familiar to find that common ground connection happens. When people switch gears and see more clearly what needs to be brought to the table for a successful collaboration that is when the magic happens. That is the attitude I want to see. I am talking about equity. I mean its really fabulous if everyone learns how to sign flawlessly but that honestly should not be the goal but more a byproduct of a successful collaboration. The most important thing at the end of the day is not necessarily how you communicate but what you communicate.

With each project I am involved with I bring in more foresight from the previous project and can become more specific and proactive. The biggest shift for myself as an actress is to not be sorry about my asks. Choosing my interpreting team is necessary because interpreters are my voice so it is very personal. ASL consultants are another important ask I make and also an ask that many people in the industry still do not completely understand. This is a relatively new but very important person to bring onto set just as important as an intimacy coordinator.

What I push for is to have another deaf person who is a native signer and knowledgeable about anything related to deaf culture and language to work with the actors and director. The ASL consultant is what gives other people the confidence to work with deaf talent like me. The ASL consultant is also my sounding board for my translations and works with the director dialogue who does not know sign language on how to shoot signed. There needs to be more content more diversity casting and more representation behind the camera. Theres plenty of room for everybody. We just need to keep that door open.

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