Deaf Community Not Happy With Netflix's Use of a Deaf Actor in 'Sierra Burgess Is a Loser'
Following its premiere Friday, Netflix’s latest romantic comedy “Sierra Burgess Is a Loser” faced backlash for scenes viewers have called transphobic, fat shaming, homophobic and more. One scene, which includes deaf actor Cochise Zornoza, is under fire for using deafness for a joke.
Zornoza plays Ty, the little brother of Noah Centineo’s character Jamey. Ty, like Zornoza, is also deaf. Sierra, played by Shannon Purser, catfishes Jamey throughout the movie. Jamey and Ty are playing football in the park when Sierra’s friend, Dan, played by RJ Cyler, forces Sierra to go up to Jamey. Though Sierra has talked on the phone with Jamey, he doesn’t know what she looks like, and she’s afraid he’ll recognize her voice. Sierra decides to act deaf, which backfires when Jamey signs to introduce his little brother.
Sierra doesn’t know American Sign Language, so Dan covers for her by doing most of the talking. Dan says he can say whatever he wants about her because she can’t hear, so he jokes that she’s a hermaphrodite and then says she’s been “slutting it up” lately.
Nyle DiMarco, model and Deaf advocate, tweeted about the scene. Zornoza is the brother of one of DiMarco’s friends, so he was excited to see the representation in the movie, but was disappointed in the portrayal.
So one of my close friends' deaf brother is in Sierra Burgess
When I learned, I was elated. Finally more deaf actors/representation & ASL inclusion in films
… Only to find out the deaf character was written and used for a terrible joke.
PS- pretending to be deaf is NOT ok.
— Nyle DiMarco (@NyleDiMarco) September 9, 2018
DiMarco says the character was “written and used for a terrible joke,” meaning Ty was only in this scene to make it funny when Sierra was nearly caught in a lie. The only other scene Zornoza appears is earlier when he plays video games with Jamey and the audience learns he’s deaf.
The scene was called out by other viewers who said the scene was problematic.
this really bugs me????
— ✨cap✨ (@not_mchammer) September 7, 2018
i’m really disappointed in sierra burgess is a loser. playing deaf is extremely disrespectful , and the film’s glamorization of it makes me sick. imagine being a deaf & finally seeing someone who knows your language,, just for them to sign “shit pizza” then give you a fist bump.
— isa (@smileyspideys) September 8, 2018
BUT I am happy that there’s an actual deaf character played by a real deaf actor. Makes me happy to see some deaf/hoh rep in movies
— Kersten [hiatus] (@gaydemonium) September 7, 2018
+ Sierra burgess also pretended to have a disability INFRONT of jamey’s DEAF brother! That’s just disgusting and wrong in so many ways.
— Arwen (@HourWhen) September 8, 2018
sierra burgess spoilers //
i was so offended by that scene – i have a deaf cousin so disability being treated as a plot device really touches a nerve and i was seething the whole time. esp since the actual deaf character looked so excited to see someone like him ?!?! https://t.co/arZvVewknL
— पल्लवी ???? #ALLNIGHT (@dagusts) September 7, 2018
Though many viewers were not happy with the scene, some were happy to see a deaf actor play a character who is deaf. Hollywood tends to cast able-bodied and hearing actors for characters with disabilities, though there are disabled and deaf actors that could be cast. According to the Ruderman Family Foundation, less than 2 percent of characters on television have a disability, even though 1 in 4 adults have a disability.
“Sierra Burgess Is a Loser” is not the first Netflix original to cast actors with disabilities. Another popular Netflix original, “Atypical,” a comedic series about an autistic teen, has added actors on the autism spectrum for its second season. Sam, the main character, however, is played by Keir Gilchrist, who is not autistic.
Photos via Netflix and Instagram