Many, many people have weighed in with their opinion
on the controversy surrounding Matt Hamill's
decision to have Eben Kostbar
play him in Kostbar's movie, Hamill.
However, there is one element that has yet to be blogged about that I'd like to touch upon.
Hamill is a member of the Deaf community and does not deserve to be vilified for this decision. It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that my title contains the word "yes" in response to whether or not we should support him.
Before I go any further into my premise, let's examine Hamill's
(entry dated 5/9/08) and Kostbar's arguments
. Kostbar, an actor, wanted to create a role for himself. He does this to make a living. He became interested in the Hamill story, befriended Hamill, and has spent two years researching this story, writing it, and preparing for the role. Understandably, he's loath to give up a starring role in a movie that he has spent so much time developing and financing. Hamill has equally valid reasons for wanting Kostbar to play him. Kostbar looks similar enough to pull it off, he has become a friend, he has worked so hard to make this project truly represent Hamill, Hamill wants this movie made, Kostbar may be the best choice in many ways due to all of his preparation, and so forth. No matter where we stand on this issue, we have to recognize that Hamill and Kostbar have valid reasons for wanting this project to continue as planned, with Kostbar taking the title role. Furthermore, the project appears incredibly well thought out and sensitive to a Deaf audience.
While I can empathize completely with them and their goals, I'm still lying here on my sofa, typing these words, "I don't care. It's still WRONG for a hearing person to play a deaf person on so many levels."
Those who insist that it is Hamill's choice repeatedly make two false arguments:
1. It is Hamill's choice (and thus denying the ripple effects of said choice).
2. This is just a small group of extremists protesting this decision.
Argument number one: I will be the first to concede the truth of this - it is indeed Hamill's choice. He should have the freedom to decide who will play him. However, I believe that Hamill either does not realize or does not care about the consequences of his choice. He seems to be only thinking of his project, not about the community. This action runs counter to community values. A Deaf community member normally considers the community's needs and interests very carefully before proceeding with a decision that affects the community. This decision could have very negative consequences on Deaf actors and on Deaf children who do not see themselves represented on the silver screen. Has Hamill considered this? I'm no mind-reader, but I wonder about this.
Argument number two: This is patently and absurdly false
. From where I stand, from the discussions I've had in the Real World and online, popular opinion is running strongly against Hamill's decision. It actually seems to be a small, yet vocal minority that is calling us extremist, militant, and every foul name under the sun while blaming us for the problem. They are, of course, entitled to their opinion. But they seem to be ignoring the points made by many who have expressed concerns. It seems to me that they're too busy blaming us, saying the movie may not be made, we're making the community look bad, and a lot more in this vein.
Speaking of blame... MishkaZena hit the nail on the head - it is Hamill's decision that is causing this debate, not us. Hamill had the temerity to claim that "[i]t's unfortunate that there is always a small portion of the deaf community that feels the need to protest the most trivial things in life." We wouldn't have had to raise the issue if not for his decision. And this is most assuredly not trivial. I'm not willing to accept *any* blame for this discussion. All we're doing is listening to our Deaf intuition (no, not channeled through any of our "Deafhood priests" or anything equally ridiculous,) and taking a stand.
Hamill, and these people, are going about this from individualistic American culture, which is more concerned about looking out for their own interests. We are approaching this from the collective Deaf community viewpoint. That's the difference between the two perspectives. From reading comments, there are quite a few people who see both points of view and are torn. I can understand this, because I have mixed feelings as well. To me, though, a principle is a principle. I'm stickin' by mine.
An issue this raises: the role of a hearing ally. Kostbar, even though his statement was beautiful and he is seriously *hot* (sorry, hadda throw that in there), needs to consider this carefully. Someone told me a story that perfectly illustrates a true hearing ally a few weeks ago: She wanted to nominate this hearing person to be on the Gallaudet Board of Trustees when they were recently filling seats. The hearing person said, "I'd rather seats go to Deaf people first. Once that happens, then and only
then, would I consider maybe
being nominated. It's not my place to be making decisions for Deaf people." Exactly. Kostbar, while professing a deep love for Deaf people and for our culture, is still making decisions that benefit himself, not us. (see above about collectivism) He is also sounding remarkably paternalistic when he asks us to consider that he "helped birth a project" that will allegedly bring about heightened awareness. I believe that Kostbar is sincere, but he is either unaware of or choosing to ignore what he's doing. At the moment, he is not acting like a true hearing ally.
Allow me to anticipate some bloggers' arguments: "You're brainwashed by Deafhood priests." "You're not thinking for yourself." "You're a crab." "It's his CHOICE." "What's the hubbub about? He's just ACTING, for Pete's sake!" and more. None of these are true. I'm not brainwashed. I'm thinking for myself, and I believe it shows in how I've examined Hamill's and Kostbar's statements and empathize with both of them. I've already discussed the choice issue above. When one is talking about oppressed minorities, a member of the majority culture acting as the oppressed minority simply does *not* wash.
Let's go back to my originally stated premise. Hamill and Kostbar are getting a lot of anger heaped upon their dark-haired heads. This is unnecessary. We are civilized people and capable of debating this issue calmly with respect. Angry name-calling is not going to further our argument; in fact, it will only serve to alienate them. Kostbar's synopsis
already says that Hamill feels out of place in the Deaf community. Aren't some angry bloggers and commenters proving his point? For-for? Matt Hamill is one of us. Let's reach out to him. Let's talk with him and open a dialogue with him about this topic. For example, we could suggest that he play himself and that Kostbar get a lot of credits in the film (producer, director, writer, yada, yada). We could try to explain why his decision runs completely against our community values and how damaging it could be to us. Even if he does not change his mind, he will have had the opportunity to see that this issue runs much deeper than a small group of pouters and whiners complaining, and that that image of a small group of whiners is completely untrue.
We need to support Hamill as an individual and as a community member, even if we do not support his actions. Hamill can count on my support as a person, even while I lie on my stomach, banging this entry out on my sofa, critiquing his actions and decision. This is the responsible thing to do as a community member, examining actions and discussing them while supporting each other.**Note: Only productive comments will be allowed through, even if they do not agree with the points in this entry. Inflammatory and insulting comments will never see the light of day