Updated: Feb 20, 2021
LA-based actor and filmmaker, Raquel McPeek Rodriguez, talks to us about her career as a Deaf professional working in film and television, and co-creating Filming While Deaf to discuss the experiences of other Deaf and Hard of Hearing professionals working in the industry.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us. First of all, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you first started out in your career?
I’m a proud Deaf, Latina Actress, I grew up performing on stage. I was one of those hardcore thespians nerds. I loved it and I still do; now as an actress for tv and film. I’m just a little more controlled and a little less theatrical.
But it all started with my dad. Every night before we’d go to sleep he’d either tell us a story or read books to us. He read all the Harry Potter books to us growing up and so many more. He had voices for every character and as a family, we’d all laugh and cry together; it was our family ritual.
It amazed me how every evening I’d look up at him, watching him perform, listening to his stories; and every time I’d get lost in it. I knew that’s something I wanted to do for others. And if I can take my audience on a journey through all the ups and downs, I’ll know I’ve done my job.
You’ve since starred in numerous TV shows and short films. What has been one of your more rewarding roles to play so far?
It was my role in Chicago Med. First of all, we had an amazing director. He, the actors, and crew on set always made me feel seen, comfortable and recognized.
However, sometimes when working on set with someone with a disability, people aren’t always sure how to respond or talk to the person. I’ve worked on a set before for a guest star role and I was ignored. And in an industry which is growing, and it is, you learn to cope and be patient.
Now, not all my experience is like that, I have a lot of wonderful memories working with amazing people! But sometimes I let memories like that get to me, like I don’t deserve my spot even though I have and I do.
But on Chicago Med where our director wanted to collaborate with me and my scene partner who was also Deaf so we can deliver the most to the screen, and tell our stories.
And something I’ll never forget, after we had wrapped the final episode of the season everyone in the cast and crew were gathered around our director. He had his final remarks as he was retiring but then he took a moment to recognize me and my scene partner for our performance. And then everyone in the room put their hands up in the air and did the silent applause in ASL.
It meant more to me than I’ll ever be able to express but it was confirmation, I deserve to be here as a working Deaf Latina actress.
What are your thoughts on the level of representation currently given to Deaf characters?
That there’s not enough of everything; not enough roles, stories, people working behind the scenes and on camera.
First, there are so many different kinds of Deaf and Hard of Hearing. There are Deaf who sign, and those who don’t. There are Deaf who use cochlear implants, hearing - aid; those who don’t, or maybe born with it and then reject it later. There are Deaf and Hard of Hearing stories that aren’t even related to any of that; those who went through a traumatic experience or fell in love.
Secondly, why can’t there be a Deaf actor who’s a leading lady or the bad guy? I think people tend to think “oh, poor them”; we’ll cast them as the best friend or the one who gets picked on.
One thing I’ve learned is that people with Disabilities, we’re ALL BADASS. I promise if you bring us on board, no one will work harder than those who have to prove themselves everyday in every industry to be seen and recognized. We’re ready to share our stories if you’re ready to listen.
As a Deaf actor and filmmaker, what advice do you have for filmmakers and writers?
If you want to do your character justice, the Deaf role, you need to cast Deaf actors. No one knows what it’s like to be Deaf better than Deaf.
Sure, a hearing actor can research and ask around, but they’ve never experience it
themselves so how can they portray the character authentically while using their ears on camera.
Secondly, if you want tell a Deaf story, if you can, hire a Deaf or Hard of Hearing person (depending on your story) to work behind the scenes, they can help you. And remember, there are different kinds of Deaf and Hard of Hearing. But don’t let that scare you, it’s just means there’s a variety of stories and that’s something to be excited about!
To that end, you’re one of the co-creators of the Filming While Deaf discussion group on Clubhouse. Can you tell us about the aim of the group and your inspiration for starting it?
I think the best thing people can do when there is a lack of representation, is to talk about it, ask the tough questions, present these ideas and share our stories; and then hope from that the producers, directors, writers will consider it in their next script or casting call.
Unfortunately right now, the app is not accessible for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. But the good news is the app recognize that and they’re looking to grow.
For the previous “Filming While Deaf” discussion we hosted the audio conversation on the Clubhouse app, and then on our Facebook page we had live ASL interpreters, interpreting the conversation.
This upcoming discussion on Saturday (4PM PST and regularly thereafter), we’ll have ASL interpreters again and we’ve figured out how to add captions so we’ll have that too!
Shout out to our team, Jason T. Gaffney who has been working tirelessly to figure out how to display the captions and ASL interpreters for our audience; Hilari Scarl for hosting the room, bringing in her connections and Ryan Duchoeny who has been helping us all throughout this whole process. I'm working with a group of amazing people and I could not be more grateful for the opportunity.
So as we go on this journey, presenting this discussion to the industry we’re also learning how to make the app more accessible to present to the board.
We can only go up from here and I’m excited for what we have planned and what’s to come.
Can you tell us about some of the discussions you’ve had already and the impact you’re hoping they can have?
We’ve had some questions from Deaf and Hard of Hearing about how they can get started. We’ve also had questions from casting directors how they can present Deaf actors for roles that aren’t labelled as such to the producers, where can they find Deaf actors; how can the crew make set and auditions more accessible now with everyone wearing masks and much more.
We have our answers from the panel including my own, Jason T. Gaffney, Ryan Duchoeny and our host Hilari Scarl, we offer our experience, advice and ideas. And then we also have other producers, casting directors, etc come onto the stage and they offer theirs as well; which has been really amazing because I’ve been learning just as much as I’ve been presenting.
This discussion, people asking these questions, it has me excited because it means the industry is ready for more diversity and for change.
What makes Clubhouse the ideal platform for the group’s discussions, and what’s been your experience using it so far?
Well, it is and it isn’t.
It is because we have this platform where we have all these major industry professional available, to meet, discuss and ask questions. Something I’ve also noticed is that there’s been tons of conversations on the app about diversity, accessibility, and inclusion. Not just for people with disabilities, but for POC (People of Color) too. People are ready for the “New Hollywood” as they called it in a conversation I heard last night.
And then it isn’t because it’s not fully accessible... yet! But the important thing is we’re doing something about it and we’re having these conversations.
Can you tell us what projects you’re working on at the moment?
Yes! I’m working on a something right now which I cannot talk about... yet! But I’m working with some really amazing people and it’s been a major opportunity, reconnecting to my Latino roots, which I haven’t really done yet. So I’m really excited and I promise I will share as soon as I can. But good things are coming!
How can we support Filming While Deaf?
We are currently looking for Sponsors for our ASL interpreters. Right now they are working as volunteers but it would be great to pay them for their time and service. So for sponsorship opportunities, reach out to email@example.com and we
look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.
You can follow Raquel on Instagram: @RaquelMcRod