The Mighty Logo

Deaf Community Not Happy With Netflix's Use of a Deaf Actor in 'Sierra Burgess Is a Loser'

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

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.

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.

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

Originally published: September 10, 2018
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home