The Simpsons Features First Deaf Voice Actor, Use of ASL in Latest Episode

Deaf members of the film community had a historic night at the Oscars, when “CODA” took home Best Picture and deaf actor Troy Kotsur won Best Supporting Actor. But that may have just been the beginning, with more opportunities for deaf performers and creators continuing to materialize. The latest Hollywood property to work with deaf actors: “The Simpsons.”

The next episode of the long-running cartoon, “The Sound of Bleeding Gums,” follows Lisa Simpson as she tracks down the deaf son of her favorite saxophone player and helps him get a cochlear implant. The episode is notable for including sequences of American Sign Language (despite characters only having four fingers), as well as casting deaf actor John Autry II to voice the character. When the episode airs this Sunday, Autry will be the first deaf performer to voice a character on the show.

“It’s so incredible,” Autry told Variety. “It’s life-changing equality and participation. This can impact change for all of us. It’s about hard of hearing and hearing characters coming together. It’s a part of history.”

The episode was written by Loni Steele Sosthand, who has a personal connection to the material. “I’m mixed-race; my father’s Black and jazz was big in our house,” she said. “We grew up in the suburbs, and it was a way for my dad to bring in that aspect of our culture. But when I think about music, I also think about my brother, who was born deaf. When we were talking about this Bleeding Gums character in our initial brainstorms, we thought, wouldn’t it be cool if Lisa discovers this whole other side of his life. That led to him having a son, and then we based that character at least somewhat on my brother. And the story grew from there.”

Sosthand praised “CODA” for the opportunities it created for the deaf community, but hopes that the movie and her “Simpsons” episode lead to many more deaf film and television projects.

“I was an early viewer of ‘CODA’ and really admire the movie,” Sosthand said. “There are themes in it that are somewhat echoed here, coming out of a sibling relationship. And also ‘CODA’ has the tension between music and the deaf experience. I think it’s great because the Deaf experience isn’t just one story, there are so many stories to be told.”

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