A white sign-language interpreter is suing Theatre Development Fund for discrimination, alleging that the Broadway show fired him because of his skin color.
Theatre Development Fund (TDF) — a nonprofit that assists Broadway shows with sign-language interpreters — asked Keith Wann, 53, and at least one other interpreter to step aside in favor of a black replacement for an April production of “The Lion King.” According to the New York Post, the organization decided it was “no longer appropriate to have white interpreters represent Black actors in Broadway shows.”
On Tuesday, Wann filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the organization and its programming director, Lisa Carling.
According to the lawsuit, Carling asked Wann and another non-black sign-language interpreter to “back out” of the show — which celebrates its 25th anniversary on Sunday — so they could be replaced by black sign-language experts.
“To me, just seeing that discrimination, it doesn’t matter if I’m white or black,” Wann told the New York Post. “This is blatant and I would just hope that other people who have also experienced this would step forward.”
Wann is a veteran sign-language interpreter who has been involved in Broadway productions for over a decade. In March, he was asked to work on one of Broadway’s most-acclaimed and longest-running shows.
But days later, he received an email from Carling saying that his contribution will no longer be needed or allowed, citing 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.”
Carling’s decision was made at the behest of Shelly Guy, the director of ASL for “The Lion King.”
“The majority of the characters in the Lion King are black actors and the content takes place in Africa,” Guy wrote to Carling in an April 1 email. “Keith Wann, though an amazing ASL performer, is not a black person and therefore should not be representing Lion King,” she continued.
The following day, Wann was removed from the high-profile gig.
The white sign-language interpreter did not respond to Carling’s email, which shocked and outraged him. After mulling it over, he decided to bring the issue before the Manhattan Federal Court.
“I lost sleep over it,” Wann told the New York Post, adding that he has interpreted a wide and diverse range of characters in the past, some of whom were black. “Wrong is wrong,” he added.
Reporting by The National File.