The New Marlee

What is behind Marlee Matlin’s sudden career surge and spotlight redirection?

Matlin, best known for her Academy Award winning portrayal of deaf janitor Sarah in Children of a Lesser God (1986), has been grabbing headlines over the past year. Just last week, it was announced on Entertainment Weekly’s Hollywood Insider Blog that Matlin would be donning dance shoes for the sixth season of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars.

Is it a career resurgence of some sort? Matlin has long been an eclectic actress, with several prominent movie and television roles, recently guest starring in CSI: NY, My Name is Earl, The L Word, and in this season’s Nip/Tuck.

Matlin hasn’t just been seen on one side of the tube. She was named as one of the new members of Gallaudet University’s Board of Trustees in the restructuring that took place last fall. Although she does not possess any experience in higher education, her name alone brings much-needed boost to Gallaudet with her activism. Matlin has been heavily involved with the Red Cross and The Heart Truth. Matlin was also a strong advocate in 1992 in pushing Congress (and the FCC) to pass legislation requiring captioning for television shows and eventually requiring television manufacturers to install decoder chips. Matlin’s community activism gives the Board of Trustees a prominent name.

Matlin’s possible casting in Dancing with the Stars is a boon for her, and for mainstreamed audiences who recently watched Heather Mills McCartney and her prosthetic leg dance in the fourth season of the show. The show has long believed in the stance that anyone can dance – and by casting a deaf actress, they are staying true to their word.

Matlin’s current characters Jodi Lerner in The L Word and network executive Barbara Shapiro in Nip/Tuck have given her steady employment after a stint writing a string of children’s books over the past several years. Matlin has not appeared in a movie since 2006’s What the Bleep?!: Down the Rabbit Hole.

I’m not one to badmouth people or things, and I’m not going to start here. Matlin has been a great asset to the deaf community. Sure, we’ve had our spitting matches about her non-signing moment at the Academy Awards, and I just can’t get out of my head the ugly prom-looking dress and the black-rimmed glasses she wore onstage, but Matlin has fought tirelessly for future generations of deaf actors and actresses to appear on television and in movies. I truly believe that, if not for Marlee Matlin, actors such as Tyrone Giordano, Shoshannah Stern, Russell Harvard and Alexandria Wailes would not have budding resumes to show around Hollywood.

Then, perhaps, there is no other way I would want this to turn out. I applaud Matlin’s career resurgence and her increased visibility in television shows the last two years. Aside from a stunning victory in Dancing with the Stars, I envision another Academy Award nomination (and maybe win) as the cherry on the top of her sundae!

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