Make space

Jameela Jamil opens up on her very good reasons for turning down a recent role

Jameela Jamil appears on a panel for 'The Good Place' during an NBC press tour in Los Angeles, on August 2, 2016. (REUTERS/Phil McCarten)

Jameela Jamil has revealed she declined a role she was offered recently because she did not want to take the job from a deaf actress.

Although the Good Place star was born with some hearing impairment, she said it “wouldn’t be appropriate” for her to be cast in the role — which should go to “a brilliant deaf woman” — because she can now hear.

“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,” she 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 added: “I don’t want to be part of erasure.”

Marlee Matlin, still the only deaf actor to win an Oscar — thanked Jamil on Twitter for her good example.

Jamil’s comments came amid an ongoing debate in Hollywood about casting straight actors in LGBT roles; cisgender actors in transgender roles, and giving able-bodied actors parts playing disabled characters. “Whitewashing,” in which white actors are cast in non-white character roles (or in roles that are scripted for non-white characters) has also come under scrutiny in recent years — and was called out recently by Sandra Oh in her role as co-host of the Golden Globe Awards.

Actress Cate Blanchett, however, has argued fiercely for actors to be able to play any role, and said in an interview late last year, at the Rome Film Festival: “I will fight to the death for the right to suspend disbelief and play roles beyond my experience.”

Blanchett was cast as a lesbian character in the title role of Todd Haynes’ Carol, and subsequently fielded questions many times about her sexual experiences (and suitability for the role.) Having to have experienced something in order to play it defies the whole point of acting, she believes. “It also speaks to something that I’m quite passionate about in storytelling generally, but in film specifically, is that film can be quite a literal medium,” she said.

“And I will fight to the death for the right to suspend disbelief and play roles beyond my experience. I think reality television and all that that entails had an extraordinary impact, a profound impact on the way we view the creation of character,” she continued. “I think it provides a lot of opportunity, but the downside of it is that we now, particularly in America, I think, we expect and only expect people to make a profound connection to a character when it’s close to their experience.”

Jamil thinks the problem will partially be solved at the screenwriting level. “I think it’s a very tricky one,” she said, weighing up the skill of the craft against equality of opportunity. “I can understand where people are coming from when it comes to suspending disbelief but 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.”

Read the full story at Slate.

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