Who is Keith Wann? Sign-language interpreter claims he was fired from 'Lion King' because he's White

Keith Wann filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the Theatre Development Fund and the director of its accessibility programs

Who is Keith Wann? Sign-language interpreter claims he was fired from 'Lion King' because he's White
Keith Wann has been working in NYC for more than a decade and has interpreted for a diverse array of performers (keithwann.com)
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NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK: An American sign language interpreter claims he was fired from the Broadway play 'The Lion King' because of the color of his skin. Keith Wann, 53, was one of at least two people forced to leave the production after the nonprofit Theater Development Fund, which employs American Sign Language interpreters for Broadway shows, decided it was "no longer appropriate to have white interpreters represent black characters for ASL Broadway shows," the New York Post reported. On Tuesday, Wann sued the company and Lisa Carling, director of accessibility programs, in federal court for discrimination.

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According to the lawsuit and emails acquired by the New York Post, Carling instructed Wann and interpreter Christina Mosleh to "back out" of the performance, which celebrates its 25th anniversary Sunday, so they could be replaced by black sign language professionals. Wann said, "To me, just seeing that discrimination, it doesn’t matter if I’m white or black. This is blatant and I would just hope that other people who have also experienced this would step forward."

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In March, Wann, a comedian, actor, and performer with more than ten years of experience in New York was given the opportunity to work on one of Broadway's most well-known and enduring productions. He was astonished, though, when he received an email from Carling asking him and another interpreter to leave the event, citing "the current social climate," a few days later. Carling wrote, "With great embarrassment and apologies, I’m asking you both to please back out of interpreting the show for us on Sunday, April 24. I don’t see any other way out of this. It seems like the best solution." Another email acquired by NY Post and quoted in the lawsuit claims that Carling made the decision to fire all non-black interpreters at the request of the director of ASL for 'The Lion King' Shelly Guy. The ASL director wrote Carling, "The majority of the characters in the Lion King are black actors and the content takes place in Africa." Carling said, "Keith Wann, though an amazing ASL performer, is not a black person and therefore should not be representing Lion King."

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Who is Keith Wann?

Keith Wann has been performing since 2002. He first joined a sign language improv group before launching his solo career in 2004 after several music video parodies went viral. Over the years, Keith Wann has continued to tour, both with his solo show and with other comedians on the ASL Comedy Tour. Viral videos keep popping up on his numerous social media accounts, in which he talks about his upbringing, going to church, and spending time with his family. In 2017, he semi-retired from his live comedy performances to focus on web/studio projects.

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Wann is a pioneering ASL performer who has been featured in many short films with ASL and currently stars in a popular ASL children's show called 'Signed Stories.' His comedic style, combining hilarious humor with heartfelt stories from his life as a hearing child with deaf parents, has become well-known in the ASL community.

He has also appeared in 'Law and Order, High Maintenance,' 'Quantico,' and other short films with deaf directors and actors. He has also appeared in a number of Pepsi commercials.

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