Marlee Matlin took time out of her busy day at Sundance today—where she’s serving on the festival’s U.S. Dramatic Competition jury—to call out kids music brand Kidz Bop, saying that she’s “pissed” over the way the company is treating its first deaf performer.
Specifically, Matlin spoke on behalf of a young performer named Savannah/Savvy, who joined the long-running “kids sing pop songs without the swear words” company late last year, in a move highlighted in an article by People. All well and good: Savvy’s appeared in a number of Kidz Bop videos, both in the videos proper, and in picture-in-picture, doing ASL alongside the lyrics.
The trouble, per Matlin, came when Savvy asked if she could be part of the Kidz Bop touring company. Per an exchange with the performer’s mother, Matlin says they were told, “They weren’t going to let her on the tour because they said the interpreter was too expensive.” Matlin bristled at this: “What do you mean too expensive? Too expensive to pay for the interpreter. Too expensive to give her access. That’s fucking ridiculous.”
Matlin is, of course, one of the most prominent deaf actors in America; she was at Sundance two years ago, too, where her film Coda picked up several awards before winning Best Picture at the Oscars in 2022. But she says that she still faces similar issues in her own career, recounting a recent incident in which a multi-episode role was offered to her as a judge in a TV show, only to have the part rescinded after she asked questions about “how they planned to envision the courtroom with the use of an interpreter, a necessity to play such a character.” “There’s still a lack of education out there,” she told reporters at Sundance.
Kidz Bop has been running since 2001, using kids to record kid-friendly covers of pop songs. The brand’s YouTube channel has more than 3 million subscribers.