Words by Smiley Team
The team behind well-loved TV series The Simpsons have made history with the first ever deaf voice actor and use of American Sign Language.
The episode, which aired April 10, featured first-ever use of ASL on The Simpsons and was titled “The Sound of Bleeding Gums". It focused on Lisa Simpson, who discovers that her favourite musician and mentor, the late saxophonist Bleeding Gums Murphy, had a son who was born deaf.
She meets the young man, Monk, who wants to get a cochlear implant — but Lisa gets a little too over-exuberant in trying to help him.
The creative team behind did encounter a hiccup when they remembered that The Simpsons’ animated characters only have four fingers.
“That was a little tricky, especially because the one thing we’re translating is Shakespeare. But I think we pulled it off”, said writer Loni Steele Sosthand.
The episode is inspired by Sosthand’s family and specifically her brother, Eli, who was born deaf.
“I’m mixed race; my father’s Black and jazz was big in our house. We grew up in the suburbs, and it was a way for my dad to bring in that aspect of our culture," said Loni. "But when I think about music, I also think about my brother, who was born deaf.
“When we were talking about this Bleeding Gums character in our initial brainstorms, we thought, wouldn’t it be cool if Lisa discovers this whole other side of his life. That led to him having a son, and then we based that character at least somewhat on my brother. And the story grew from there.”
Sosthand also sought her brother’s approval while writing the script, which includes a scene where Bleeding Gums discovers his son is deaf, modelled on how Sosthand’s parents discovered Eli was hearing impaired.
Eli also voices a part in the episode, as do several other deaf performers, including comedian Kathy Buckley and three kids from No Limits, a nonprofit devoted to deaf children: Kaylee Arellano, Ian Mayorga and Hazel Lopez.
Sosthand and her brother, Eli Steele, had previously developed a pilot based on their lives, featuring deaf actor John Autry II.
Autry praised The Simpsons for hiring a deaf actor to play the role in the recent episode, and for incorporating ASL
“It’s so incredible. It’s life-changing equality and participation. This can impact change for all of us. It’s about hard of hearing and hearing characters coming together. It’s a part of history.”
SUPPORT: You can visit the British Deaf Association website to find out more about supporting those who are deaf or have impaired hearing, or make a donation.
DONATE: Donate to the National Association of the Deaf – find out more on their website.