Ahead of the Dec. 17 premiere of The Stand on CBS All-Access, the new adaptation of Stephen King’s classic dystopian novel is coming under fire from prominent members of the deaf community. A new letter that’s circulating online and signed by over 70 individuals — including entrepreneur and activist Keely Cat-Wells and Broadway star John McGinty — takes the nine-episode series to task for casting a hearing actor, Henry Zaga, in the role of Nick Andros, the lone deaf survivor of the Captain Trips virus that wipes out most of humanity. “Enough is enough,” the letter states. “We, the undersigned, are all professional union and non-union members and are taking a stand against the release of the miniseries The Stand.”
The controversy over Zaga’s casting first surfaced last August following an Instagram exchange between deaf artist and activist Jared Perez-DeBusk and The Stand showrunner Josh Boone. At the time, Boone — who had previously directed Zaga in his X-Men film, The New Mutants — defending the decision, noting that Nick sometimes hears and even speaks in dream sequences featured in King’s book. Additionally, the director indicated that the star had worked to become near-fluent in ASL and would also have consultants on set.
Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment, Zaga’s co-star Brad William Henke — who plays Nick’s friend and traveling companion, Tom Cullen, in the series — reiterates that the actor approached the role with the utmost respect. “You’ve never seen someone more serious, which was beautiful,” Henke remarks. “He had two technical advisors working him all the time. He took it so seriously. He’s a really good person, and he was really sweet to me.”
Henke notes that he initially felt some concerns about taking on the role of Tom, who is mentally handicapped in the book and the series. “I would never want to take someone’s work, so I’m really conscious of that type of stuff,” he says of playing the part in place of a disabled actor. “I think if the producers felt that they could have cast [someone else], the would have done that.” The former Orange Is the New Black star modeled his performance after someone he knew in high school who suffered from a blood clot in his brain. “I didn’t want to play Tom as a one-dimensional happy, slow person. I wanted to bring all these layers to it.”
Zaga’s presence in The Stand comes at the end of a year where Hollywood has had to regularly confront the lack of representation and opportunities for minority actors and artists in the film and television industries. And the #StandAgainstTheStand letter specifically points out that no deaf actors were invited to audition for the role Nick. “The decision was made without respect to and for Deaf professionals,” it reads. “There was no acknowledgment given to to the psyche of a Deaf character; being Deaf is more than just not hearing.”
— Ansley O'Irish (@ansleyirish1024) December 17, 2020
— Brian Cheslik (@Actorboi1981) December 17, 2020
I love you @WhoopiGoldberg, but I am joining my Deaf film and theatre colleagues in solidarity. I will not be endorsing, watching, or supporting The Stand on @CBSAllAccess. #StandAgainsttheStand pic.twitter.com/HCFJNgCK3G
— JR Nexus Russ (@AWayofLife0) December 17, 2020
The letter concludes with an urgent appeal to Hollywood to change its hiring practices. “It is time for industry professionals to create opportunities for Deaf talent to work on the set, in front of, and behind the camera, in the writing rooms, sit on creative teams when there is a Deaf character involved in the storyline. Our voice is a sign of the times.”
The Stand premieres Dec. 17 on CBS All-Access.
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