A sign language interpreter who was booted from his Broadway gig with the production “The Lion King” is suing, claiming he was fired because he is white.
Keith Wann, 53, said he and one other person were forced off the production by the Theatre Development Fund, which provides American Sign Language interpreters.
Wann filed a federal discrimination lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York against the organization and Lisa Carling, its director of its accessibility programs.
Wann shared a copy of the lawsuit and emails concerning the issue with the New York Post.
In the documentation, the group is shown saying it was “no longer appropriate to have white interpreters represent black characters for ASL Broadway shows.”
Wann said he and Christina Mosleh were told to go away so they could be replaced by black sign-language experts, according to the suit and emails obtained by the Post.
In one communication, Carling cited “the current social climate.”
“With great embarrassment and apologies, I’m asking you both to please back out of interpreting the show for us on Sunday, April 24,” Carling wrote. “I don’t see any other way out of this. It seems like the best solution.”
Shelly Guy, the director of ASL for “The Lion King,” had told Carling to ditch the white interpreters, the Post wrote, citing emails and the lawsuit.
“The majority of the characters in the Lion King are black actors and the content takes place in Africa,” Guy wrote Carling on April 1.
“Keith Wann, though an amazing ASL performer, is not a black person and therefore should not be representing Lion King,” she wrote.
Wann said that was just plain wrong.
“To me, just seeing that discrimination, it doesn’t matter if I’m white or black,” Wann said.
“This is blatant and I would just hope that other people who have also experienced this would step forward,” he said.
I found articles in the internet but can’t find postings on Facebook. Keith Wann is exhibiting white fragility. He needs to get over himself. I am in support of Black interpreters for The Lion King play.
— Arista (She/her, elle) (@arista_photos) November 13, 2022
“I lost sleep over it,” Wann said, adding “Wrong is wrong.”
The Post sought comment from Mosleh, Carling, Guy and Disney Theatrical Productions, which produced “The Lion King.” None replied. The Theatre Development Fund declined to comment.
Racism is racism no matter how you spin it. If the roles were reversed, there would be an outcry. Yet nobody cares when white people face racism which yes, is very much possible. I hope Keith Wann gets the justice he deserves. #KeithWann #racismisracism
— Natalie Schechter (@Natfl1x) November 13, 2022
In writing for the OnStageBlog, Chris Peterson noted that “Keith Wann is right; this is discrimination. And with the emails obtained, it’s a pretty clear-cut case that he should win. Now, does Shelly Guy have a point? Yes. Should Black interpreters have the opportunity to work at ‘The Lion King’? Definitely. Especially if those interpreters are marginalized within the accessibility program community.”
hello Danville Ky! excited to be performing tonight. see you there! pic.twitter.com/nkJ8KaQROK
— Keith Wann (@KeithWann) September 2, 2022
“But where I draw the line is how Guy handled it. I’m not familiar with the contract process, but if she didn’t want Wann to interpret the show, she could have waited till his job was done or his contract ran out. Then there would be no need for explicit directions to boot him out because of his skin color,” he wrote.
“As a Korean-American, I am 100% behind in providing more opportunities for BIPOC and other marginalized communities in the professional theatre industry. What I am not for is theatre officials and leaders making dumb decisions in the name of progress when actually it could damage progress,” he wrote.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.
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