Last week’s episode of “The Simpsons” made history in the best way possible.
Not only did the show feature a Deaf voice actor, but they also incorporated American Sign Language (ASL) into the show for the very first time. As reported by Screenrant, the animated series is the longest-running scripted animated television series in history.
Since its debut in 1989, it has won over 30 Emmys and countless awards during its run, which has yet to show any signs of stopping. Currently, in its 33rd season, the show continues to break new boundaries and achieve historic firsts.
‘The Simpsons’ Spotlights Deaf Culture In The Best Possible Way
Last week’s episode was episode 17 of the show’s 33rd season, called “The Sounds of Bleeding Gums.” The episode focused on Lisa Simpson, the Simpson family’s oldest daughter. During the episode, Lisa meets Monk Murphy, the song of her late music idol “Bleeding Gums” Murphy. She finds out that Monk was born deaf and at first considered getting a cochlear implant. Lisa was quick to want to help Monk, but is humbled when she realizes that Monk doesn’t need to be “fixed” and his life is just fine as it is.
Variety spoke with episode writer Loni Steele Sosthand about the episode. She revealed that the episode was inspired by her own life. Growing up, her own father loved jazz, but her brother was born deaf. She explained that the episode not only contained memories from her childhood, but she also drew from experiences throughout her life.
“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,” she explained. “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.”
This is the first episode that ever used American Sign Language (ASL) and is the first time that the show used a Deaf voice actor. The episode features actor John Autry II, as well as other Deaf performers, such as comedian Kathy Buckley.
The show partnered with No Limits, a non-profit organization devoted to providing resources to deaf children, and allowed three deaf children to contribute their work to the new episode. Although the creators were initially concerned about using ASL since the characters only had four fingers, Sosthand admitted that it was a “tricky” feat but said that they “pulled it off.”
Deaf Culture Is Benefiting From Exposure In Films Like ‘CODA’
In 2019, the Riz Ahmed film “The Sound of Metal” told the story of a drummer who was struggling to deal with the loss of his hearing. The film, which was released on Amazon Prime, won both Best Sound and Best Editing at the Academy Awards.
In 2021, the Marvel film “Eternals” featured “The Walking Dead” star Lauren Ridloff as the first on-screen Deaf superhero named Makkari. Ridloff incorporated her character’s deafness into the role and used her native language of ASL throughout the film.
Most recently, “CODA” won all three of its nominations at the 94th annual Academy Awards. Not only did “CODA” win the headlining prize of Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay, but Troy Kotsur also made history as the first Deaf male actor to win an Oscar in the award ceremony’s 94-year history. He is the second Deaf actor in history to win the golden statue, behind “CODA” costar Marlee Matlin, who won her Oscar in 1987 for “Children of a Lesser God.”