Sign language interpreter sues Lion King on Broadway after director told him it’s ‘no longer appropriate to have white interpreters represent black characters’

  • A sign language interpreter who worked on the Broadway production of The Lion King said he was fired because he’s white
  • Keith Wann, 53, said that he and another performer were taken off the show by the company that staffs interpreters for the Great White Way 
  • The interpreter was only brought to work on the musical back in March after over a decade working elsewhere on Broadway. The gig also pays $1,000 per show 
  • Wann is filing a lawsuit against the Theatre Development Fund and Lisa Carling, the director of the non-profit’s accessibility programs 
  • The group said that it was ‘no longer appropriate to have white interpreters represent black characters for ASL (American Sign Language) Broadway shows’
  • The Elton John and Tim Rice-penned musical, which has run on Broadway since 1997, has always had a predominantly black cast onstage 

A sign language interpreter who worked on the Broadway production of The Lion King said he was fired because he’s white and ‘should not be representing the show.’ 

Keith Wann, 53, said that he and another performer were taken off the show by the company that staffs interpreters for the Great White Way, the non-profit Theatre Development Fund. 

The interpreter was only brought to work on the musical back in March after a decade-long career on Broadway. The gig also paid $1,000 per show.

Wann is now filing a lawsuit against the Theatre Development Fund and Lisa Carling, the director of the non-profit’s accessibility programs. 

The group said that it was ‘no longer appropriate to have white interpreters represent black characters for ASL (American Sign Language) Broadway shows.’

Keith Wann, 53, said that he and another performer were taken off the show by the company that staffs interpreters for the Great White Way, the non-profit Theatre Development Fund

Keith Wann, 53, said that he and another performer were taken off the show by the company that staffs interpreters for the Great White Way, the non-profit Theatre Development Fund

Carling said the decision was on behalf of the show's ASL director, Shelly Guy, who told Carling to get rid all non-black interpreters

Carling said the decision was on behalf of the show’s ASL director, Shelly Guy, who told Carling to get rid all non-black interpreters

The interpreter was only brought to work on the musical back in March after over a decade working elsewhere on Broadway. The gig also paid $1,000 per show

The interpreter was only brought to work on the musical back in March after over a decade working elsewhere on Broadway. The gig also paid $1,000 per show

The Elton John and Tim Rice-penned musical, which has run on Broadway since 1997, has always had a predominantly black cast onstage. 

In emails obtained by the New York Post, Carling told Wann and another performer to ‘back out’ of the show so they could be replaced by black ASL interpreters. 

Wann, who says he has interpreted for black actors before, including as Donkey in Shrek: The Musical, called it ‘discrimination’ and saying it shouldn’t ‘matter if I’m white or black.’

He added: ‘This is blatant and I would just hope that other people who have also experienced this would step forward.’ 

Within days of being cast, Carling emailed him and citing the ‘current social climate,’ 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.’ 

Carling said the decision was on behalf of the show’s ASL director, Shelly Guy, who told Carling to get rid all non-black interpreters.  

In an email included in the suit, Guy writes: ‘The majority of the characters in the Lion King are black actors and the content takes place in Africa. 

‘Keith Wann, though an amazing ASL performer, is not a black person and therefore should not be representing Lion King.’

Wann claims he ‘lost sleep’ over the decision and said that ‘wrong is wrong.’  

Lion King is celebrating its 25th anniversary on Broadway with an invitation-only performance Sunday night, according to ABC7

The Elton John and Tim Rice-penned musical, which has run on Broadway since 1997, has always had a predominantly black cast onstage

The Elton John and Tim Rice-penned musical, which has run on Broadway since 1997, has always had a predominantly black cast onstage

Wann, who says he has interpreted for black actors before, including as Donkey in Shrek: The Musical, called it 'discrimination' and saying it shouldn't 'matter if I'm white or black'

Wann, who says he has interpreted for black actors before, including as Donkey in Shrek: The Musical, called it ‘discrimination’ and saying it shouldn’t ‘matter if I’m white or black’

Wann is filing a lawsuit against the Theatre Development Fund and Lisa Carling, the director of the non-profit's accessibility programs

Wann is filing a lawsuit against the Theatre Development Fund and Lisa Carling, the director of the non-profit’s accessibility programs

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