Keith Wanna, a comedian and performance artist, said his skin color was the reason he was fired from The Lion King on Broadway. Keith was one of two people asked to leave the production when the Theater Development Fund organization said white interpreters should not be allowed to play black roles in ASL Broadway musicals.
On November 8, Wann filed a discrimination case against Lisa Carling, the head of accessibility initiatives. The complaint and emails in which Carling told Wann and interpreter Christina Mosleh to stop performing so they can be replaced by black sign language practitioners have been taken up by the New York Post. In response to the case, he told the publication:
“Seeing that prejudice doesn’t matter to me if I’m white or black.” This is clear, and I hope more people who have had similar experiences will come forward.”
In March of this year, Keith Wann was asked to work on the piece. He was surprised when Carling wrote him and another translator an email asking him to leave the program. According to the email:
“It is with great humiliation and regret that I request you both to translate the concert for us on Sunday 24 April.” There is no other way out. I think that’s the best option.”
Carling made the decision to remove Wann when The Lion King’s ASL director, Shelly Guy, begged her to do so. Guy informed Carling in April 2022 that the majority of the characters in the play were played by black artists and that the story was set in Africa. Guy believes that while Wann is an excellent actor, he is not black and therefore should not be playing the Lion King.
Keith Wann was fired the next day, despite making $1,000 for his performance. He stopped responding to Carling’s emails and phone calls as he considered his options before choosing to take the case to Manhattan federal court. Mosleh has yet to respond, while Theater Development Fund, Carling, Guy and Disney Theatrical Productions all declined to comment.
Keith Wann has a long association with ASL.
Keith Wann was born on January 4, 1969 to deaf parents. In 2002 he made his debut with the ASL Improve Group and in 2004 he launched his solo career. He rose to prominence after posting an ASL video spoof of Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby on YouTube.
Keith Wann is an ASL artist who has starred in several short films. He was also featured in Pepsi ads and television series such as Law & Order and Quantico. He currently works as a writer and performer for Sign It! American Sign Language made simple. Wann even flies to the United States every weekend to do his solo performance and the ASL comedy tour.
He also teaches seminars and is an ASL attorney. Wann and his wife Emilia have joined LegalShield as independent contributors and are currently traveling the country to provide easy access to the justice system for the ASL community. Wann also conducts seminars and some ASL students have taken advantage of his monthly ASL song club to creatively learn sign language. He has performed in several Broadway productions including School of Rock, Noises Off, West Side Story, Shrek: The Musical, Little Shop of Horrors and others. Keith Wann collaborated with Sia on her song video, Soon We’ll Be Found, and as an ASL artist, he has spent a decade creating several solo performances in addition to presenting the ASL Comedy Tour.