‘The Simpsons’ Makes Historical past With First Deaf Voice Actor and ASL

When “The Simpsons” inventive group determined to make use of American Signal Language on this Sunday’s episode, there was one hitch: The present’s animated characters have solely 4 fingers.

“That was a little bit difficult, particularly as a result of the one factor we’re translating is Shakespeare,” says author Loni Steele Sosthand. “However I feel we pulled it off.”

Sosthand, who joined “The Simpsons” in 2020, is the author behind the present’s April 10 installment, “The Sound of Bleeding Gums.” The episode is just not solely notable for that includes the first-ever use of ASL on “The Simpsons,” but it surely additionally consists of the present’s first-ever deaf voice actors.

The story facilities on Lisa Simpson, who discovers that her favourite musician and mentor, the late saxophonist Bleeding Gums Murphy, had a son who was born deaf. She meets the younger man, Monk, who needs to get a cochlear implant — however Lisa will get a little bit too over-exuberant in making an attempt to assist him.

The episode is impressed by Sosthand’s household. “I’m combined race; my father’s Black and jazz was huge in our home,” Sosthand says. “We grew up within the suburbs, and it was a manner for my dad to usher in that facet of our tradition. However after I take into consideration music, I additionally take into consideration my brother, who was born deaf. Once we had been speaking about this Bleeding Gums character in our preliminary brainstorms, we thought, wouldn’t or not it’s cool if Lisa discovers this entire different facet of his life. That led to him having a son, after which we based mostly that character at the very least considerably on my brother. And the story grew from there.”

Sosthand and her brother, Eli Steele, had beforehand developed a pilot based mostly on their lives, that includes deaf actor John Autry II. So when it got here time to search out somebody to play Monk, Sosthand pitched Autry, whose credit embrace “Glee,” to exec producers James L. Brooks and Al Jean.

“Jim and Al very a lot obtained on board and noticed what a gem he was,” Sosthand says. “The character has little private moments from my childhood with my brother however can also be very a lot influenced by John.”

Autry lauded “The Simpsons” for hiring a deaf actor to play the position. “It’s so unimaginable,” he stated of the gig. “It’s life-changing equality and participation. This may influence change for all of us. It’s about arduous of listening to and listening to characters coming collectively. It’s part of historical past.”

Sosthand additionally sought her brother’s approval whereas writing the script, which features a scene the place Bleeding Gums discovers his son his deaf — patterned after how Sosthand’s mother and father found Eli was listening to impaired. Eli additionally voices an element within the episode, as do a number of different deaf performers, together with comic Kathy Buckley and three youngsters from No Limits, a nonprofit dedicated to deaf kids: Kaylee Arellano, Ian Mayorga and Hazel Lopez.

“When she pitched this concept, about Bleeding Gums having a son, we thought it could be nice for an episode,” Jean says. “The Sound of Bleeding Gums” was in improvement lengthy earlier than “CODA” got here on the scene and gained the Oscar final month, however there’s serendipity within the timing.

“I used to be an early viewer of ‘CODA’ and actually admire the film,” Sosthand says. “There are themes in it which might be considerably echoed right here, popping out of a sibling relationship. And in addition ‘CODA’ has the strain between music and the deaf expertise. I feel it’s nice, as a result of the Deaf expertise isn’t only one story, there are such a lot of tales to be advised.”

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