Actress and noted advocate for the hearing impaired Marlee Matlin slammed the fraudulent sign language interpretation done by Thamsanqa Jantjie during the Nelson Mandela memorial service earlier this week.
Add Oscar Marlee Matlin to the list of deaf people “appalled” at the fraud committed by the sign language interpreter who worked at the Nelson Mandela memorial Tuesday.
“I’ve been to South Africa before, and I can understand some of the South African sign language,” the 48-year-old actress told CNN through her own sign interpreter.
“But I thought to myself, ‘Wait a minute. This isn’t anything.’ It was almost like he was doing baseball signs.
“I was appalled. I knew that at any moment, the entire world, whoever was watching, there would be so much noise it would create an explosion. And it did.”
ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images
Jantjie signs gibberish during President Obama’s speech at the memorial service in Johannesburg.
Matlin, who stars in ABC Family’s “Switched at Birth,” put her hands on her hands on her head in apparent disgust when shown a clip of Thamsanqa Jantjie’s signing during a poem read by the late South African leader’s granddaughter during Tuesday’s service in Johannesburg.
Even though each country has its own sign language and she doesn’t have experience reading the South African version, Matlin realized that she was watching a fraud unfold during the internationally broadcast service. All sign languages incorporate facial expressions, and Jantjie continued completely stone-faced through the whole proceedings.
“To see someone standing there without any sort of movement of his body, without any sort of facial expressions that one incorporates into sign, indicates that he has no understanding of the culture, no understanding of the language,” Matlin said during CNN’s Erin Burnett OutFront Wednesday night. “I knew exactly right then and there that he wasn’t authentic at all. And it was offensive. It was offensive to me.”
Marlee Matlin and William Hurt star in the film ‘Children of a Lesser God.’
Matlin became an inspiration to the hearing impaired when she won a Best Actress Oscar for her performance in “Children of a Lesser God” (1986). She also starred in the critically acclaimed television drama “Reasonable Doubts” in the early ’90s.
Jantjie, a licensed sign language interpreter, blamed the episode on hallucinations brought about by schizophrenia.
“What happened that day, I see angels come to the stadium,” he told the Associated Press, describing an alleged vision he had during the ceremony. “I start realizing that the problem is here.”
A fraud of global proportions may not be Jantjie’s worst offense: The 34-year-old South African has a long criminal history that includes charges of rape and murder, Johannesburg news station eNCA reported Friday.