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Why Jameela Jamil From 'The Good Place' Turned Down a Deaf Role

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Actress Jameela Jamil may play a self-centered social climber in the comedy “The Good Place,” but Jamil is more socially aware than her character. Jamil told the Press Association that she turned down a role to play a deaf woman because she thought the role should go to a deaf actress instead.

“I said it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to take that role and they should find a brilliant deaf woman to play that role,” Jamil told the Press Association. “I think you have to make those choices and not be too greedy and make space rather than take space.”

Jamil was born partially deaf but is now able to hear. She said she doesn’t want to be part of the erasure of others. Disability representation in Hollywood is not a new discussion, though more people are taking note after Bryan Cranston received backlash for playing a character in a wheelchair in the upcoming movie “The Upside.”

Disability advocates, actors with disabilities and many more in the disability space have talked about the need for representation in Hollywood and beyond. What doesn’t happen as often, though, is abled actors using their platform to discuss these issues. Jamil, however, is speaking out:

I think the thing we should actually be fighting for is more roles for people with disabilities and more roles for LGBTQ so there aren’t just five a year and then those get taken by big names. That’s the thing all actors should be banding together in support of… is changing the situation where more scripts are being written where someone’s disability or someone’s sexuality is no longer the main theme of the film, it’s just part of their story but not the full story of the whole film. And that’s the big change that needs to happen. And then we won’t need to worry that we’re stealing the scarce amount of roles from other people.

According to the Ruderman Family Foundation, less than 2 percent of characters on TV have a disability despite 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. living with a disability. When disabled roles are included, they typically go to able-bodied actors.

Jamil said in a tweet she feels “very passionately” about the issue of representation in media, so “we can continue to see on screen what we are living amongst in this world.”

This isn’t the first time Jamil has spoken up for disability rights and representation. In 2015, Jamil spoke with the HuffPost about her own experiences with disability growing up and the impact it had on her. Jamil was struck by a car as a teen which caused damage to her spine and took a long time to recover from. She also experienced bullying and missed school for hospital visits and operations — some for her hearing.

“The pity is unbearable when you have a disability,” she told HuffPost. “You don’t need it, you don’t want it. You just want to get on with your life and shake off the week the way other people your age do… You want to join the conversation, be a part of a society you are entitled to join and just enjoy the rite of passage that you deserve.”

Image via Creative Commons/Cosmopolitan UK

Image via Creative Commons/Cosmopolitan UK

Originally published: January 16, 2019
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