CBS All Access’ reboot of Stephen King’s The Stand is a mostly successful one and feels like an unlikely part of the antidote to this hellish year. However, there’s one group of people that isn’t too thrilled over a casting decision. The Deaf community is calling for a boycott of the Josh Boone-directed limited series, given that the show cast Henry Zaga, a hearing actor, to portray Deaf character (written as “deaf-mute” by King in his novel) Nick Andros, a member of the Boulder Free Zone.
The Hollywood Reporter reveals details of a statement from 70 signatories, who are calling the casting decision “not acceptable.” It’s not a new controversy, either, given that (in August 2019) model Nyle DiMarco expressed his anger over the casting of Zaga as Andros, which he believes is continuing evidence that “Hollywood takes pride in diversity to ensure representation & authenticity.., BUT CONTINUES TO EXCLUDE people with disabilities.” At the time, DiMarco said that his attempts at outreach on the issue (which he stated had begun two years prior, because he wanted to circumvent this role going to a hearing actor) went ignored. Fast forward to 2020, and the group of Deaf signatories quoted by THR are calling for a boycott:
“We will not endorse, watch, or support your miniseries on CBS All Access. We will share our displeasure of the casting decision and airing of the miniseries on CBS All Access with our Deaf community, signing community, friends, and family of Deaf individuals; together we make up 466 million worldwide.”
In conjunction with this letter, a #Standagainstthestand hashtag is trending, and users are stressing the importance of authenticity (as in, casting Deaf actors in Deaf roles) and representation.
— Ansley O'Irish (@ansleyirish1024) December 17, 2020
As a Black Deaf filmmaker/TV Creator, advocate of diversity & inclusion, acting instructor, & creator/owner of #Deaftalent®️ campaign, I believe in change. It shouldn’t be that difficult to cast the right person for the role.#StandAgainstTheStand #TheStand #RepresentationMatter pic.twitter.com/WBpomfxpmz
— Jade Bryan – TV Writer & HBIC of #DeafTalent® (@DeafShowRunner) December 17, 2020
— Brian Cheslik (@Actorboi1981) December 17, 2020
I love you @WhoopiGoldberg, but I am joining my Deaf film and theatre colleagues in solidarity. I will not be endorsing, watching, or supporting The Stand on @CBSAllAccess. #StandAgainsttheStand pic.twitter.com/HCFJNgCK3G
— JR Nexus Russ (@AWayofLife0) December 17, 2020
The currently circulating letter further claims that “not one Deaf professional actor was called in to audition for the role.” Although this claim has not been fully corroborated, THR spoke with talent manager Robert Rossi (who represents many Deaf actors, including Dickie Hearts, who signed the letter), who confirmed that he wasn’t notified about the casting of The Stand. He found this to be unusual because “[u]sually SAG diversity office reaches out directly to me and the diversity casting department at networks.” Yet, Rossi stated, “Nobody reached out. It was already a done deal and here is the problem. Multiple deaf/native signers could have authentically portrayed this role.”
Previously (also in August 2019), the Daily Moth (an online program that uses American Sign Language and covers stories relating to Deaf culture) raised the issue while claiming that Josh Boone had participated in a vlog, in which the director stated that he intended to honor the character of Nick as written by King. Boone also reportedly explained that Henry Zaga was working to learn ASL worked with Deaf consultants, and Boone pointed out that Nick can hear within his dreams, so (as paraphrased by the Daily Moth) “it is okay to have a hearing actor because the character is both deaf and hearing depending on whether he is asleep or awake.”
THR reached out to The Stand producers and learned that the Deaf artists’ community that issued the statement will soon be meeting with CBS to discuss the issue.