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Director John Leonetti Criticized by Deaf Community for Upcoming Horror Film 'The Silence'


“The Silence,” a horror film that uses a hearing actress in a deaf role, is set to premiere in December, but an interview with director John Leonetti from November is circulating again following criticism from Deaf model Nyle DiMarco and Deaf actress Marlee Matlin.

In his interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Leonetti said Kiernan Shipka, the hearing actress playing the starring role, has “flawless” signing, and an almost “innate sense of what it’s like being a deaf person.”

DiMarco called Leonetti’s comments out on Twitter, saying the Deaf experience is not synonymous with learning how to sign. DiMarco also said it was “disgusting” that a hearing person would call another hearing person’s portrayal of being deaf “impeccable,” when Leonetti doesn’t understand the Deaf experience.

In another tweet, DiMarco linked to a video where he explains how it’s obvious when a hearing actor is playing a deaf character because the signing does not match how a deaf person would sign. Therefore, the community isn’t actually represented in the show or film.

Matlin also took to Twitter to express her issues with the film. Leonetti said in his interview that he pulled tips from “Children of a Lesser God,” which starred Matlin, who won an Oscar for her performance. Matlin called out Leonetti for using her role as inspiration yet still casting a hearing actor for his film.

According to the Ruderman Family Foundation, less than 2 percent of characters on television have a disability, even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported 1 in 4 adults have a disability — up from 1 in 5. When characters are disabled, the roles tend to go to able-bodied actors.

More members of the Deaf community and others expressed their disdain on Twitter.

“The Silence” is about “prehistoric reptiles” who don’t have eyes, and rely on sound to attack people. Ally, Shipka’s character, and her family try to escape using American Sign Language. The film’s premise seems similar to “A Quiet Place,” which was about monsters who use hearing to hunt and follows a family with a teen daughter, who is deaf. “A Quiet Place” starred Millicent Simmonds, a Deaf actress.

The Mighty has reached out to Leonetti’s publicist and has yet to hear back. 

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