These past few weeks you may have seen a poster announcing Marlee Matlin’s appearance at RIT. Maybe the one you saw had a mustache drawn on it, or maybe you haven’t seen one at all, since someone ripped them down. Kari Calenzo, director of Public Relations for Student Government, found out that some of their flyers were being torn down in NTID. Rumors were spreading that a portion of the Deaf community was unhappy with Matlin’s appearance at RIT.
In 1986, Matlin became the youngest recipient to win an Academy Award for Best Actress for her motion picture debut in Children of a Lesser God. When she accepted her award, she chose to use verbal speech instead of sign language. At that moment, her fan base split down
One group was happy, proud of her for winning and representing the Deaf community. The other group was disappointed that she chose not to use American Sign Language (ASL) during her acceptance speech. Twenty one years later, those feelings still resonate among those who identify with Deaf culture. When flyers that promoted her nationwide tour for her autobiography were recently posted on campus, those feelings reappeared through vandalism.
In addition to stirring up negative feelings within some of the RIT/NTID Deaf community, members of the Deaf community have reacted to the release of her autobiography, I’ll Scream Later. Her speech is just one of many appearances she has scheduled throughout April and the beginning of May. After her book was released on April 14, comments like, “You’re deaf, so act deaf” were left on her Facebook page.
“She should raise her children in both the hearing and Deaf world,” stated Joshua Struck, a third year Information and Computer Science major at NTID. Struck explained how Matlin should continue to incorporate Deaf culture into her family life more. He also feels that it is beneficial to teach your baby sign and that it improves communication between a baby and their parent.
Unlike Struck, many deaf individuals are unwilling to go on record, preferring to remain anonymous due to feeling that, no matter their opinion, they will be judged by other deaf individuals. Some feel that Matlin is an incredible inspiration to others who are deaf. Since her six week run on Dancing With the Stars last season and the release of her autobiography, her fan base has increased. Others feel that Matlin should be less oral, or even have married a deaf man instead of a hearing man.
It seems that Matlin has adapted throughout her life to the many environments that she has been in and has learned how to excel.
There is the possibility that Matlin feels fortunate for having the ability to use her voice with her family, her friends, and with whomever else she wants to. In her recent interview on Good Morning America, she used both ASL and her voice.