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  • Anita Riggio

Are We There Yet?

I could not be more thrilled by the announcement today that #CODAfilm and #TroyKostur have been nominated for #BestPicture and #BestSupportingActor respectively. I'm thrilled, not only for their wonderful work, but for the reason that it seems--finally--the film and theatre worlds are catching up to the idea that #inclusionanddiversity matter.

Like CODA, HEAR ME has a hearing protagonist who lives at the intersection of Deaf and hearing worlds. I couldn't have written it any other way--I'm not Deaf. But having been a teacher at the American School for the Deaf (ASD), and, for a short time, a Board member of the National Theatre of the Deaf (NTD), I've been a lifelong ally of the community, an appreciator of the culture, and an admirer (and occasional practitioner) of American Sign Language (ASL).

But interest, acceptance, and encouragement from the mainstream of diverse voices have been very long in coming. I was fresh out of college, and teaching at ASD, when #LouiseFletcher gave her acceptance speech in ASL as Best Actress for "Nurse Ratchet" in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. The following day was glorious! Kids, teachers, administrators--all of us!--celebrated seeing a famous actress use American Sign Language (ASL) on a nationally televised award show.

Years later, when #MarleeMatlin accepted her Best Actress award for Children of a Lesser God, I'd already left ASD to write and illustrate children's books, but I celebrated her history-making victory while drawing the final illustrations for my first, published, picture book--a victory of my own.

Years after that, the revivals of BIG RIVER, and later still, SPRING AWAKENING were produced on Broadway to rave reviews.

All of you who have been faithfully, hopefully cheering on #HearMeMusical with your encouraging posts, emails, text--not to mention donations--have been wise to the concept of inclusion and diversity since I began the journey to write and produce this musical in 2007. Some of you, including myself, our cast, creative, and producing teams have been frustrated by the piles of rejections aglow with phrases like: "A visual feast!" "Compelling story!" "A universal theme--each of us has a demon!" "Beautiful score!" And yet...

Today's nominations of CODA and Deaf actor Troy Kostur are very big deals for the supporters of inclusion and diversity in film and theater.

So, are we there yet? No, not quite yet. But the road ahead seems clearer than it once was.

- Anita Riggio, February 8, 2022.

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