White ‘Lion King’ sign-language interpreter takes legal action, claims he was ousted due to skin color

An experienced sign-language interpreter has filed a discrimination lawsuit in federal court after he was allegedly canceled from a fill-in gig with the Broadway version of the beloved “Lion King” franchise for a race-based reason.

And he purportedly has the receipts.

“Keith Wann, 53, was one of at least two people forced off the production by the non-profit Theatre Development Fund – which staffs Broadway shows with American Sign Language interpreters – after the group decided it was ‘no longer appropriate to have white interpreters represent black characters for ASL Broadway shows,'” the New York Post reported.

(Video: Fox News)

Wann is suing the organization as well as Lisa Carling, its director of accessibility programs. Carling allegedly sent him an email with the rescinded offer.

A few days after being hired in March, Carling allegedly told Wann and his colleague that “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.”

The change in plan was purportedly based on “the current social climate.”

The iconic show, which is said to be the third-longest-running musical in Broadway history, celebrated its 25th anniversary on Sunday, November 13, in an invitation-only performance.

The Post provided more details about the situation which, if accurate, leaves little to interpretation.

Carling’s decision came at the behest of Shelly Guy, the director of ASL for “The Lion King,” and called for Carling to get rid of all non-black interpreters, according to another email obtained by The Post and cited in the suit. “The majority of the characters in the Lion King are black actors and the content takes place in Africa,” Guy wrote Carling on April 1. “Keith Wann, though an amazing ASL performer, is not a black person and therefore should not be representing Lion King,” she declared.


Wann told “Fox & Friends” on Monday morning that after reviewing the follow-up email in question, he concluded that “What they’re saying here — I think this is illegal.”

He then decided to retain legal counsel even though he was set to receive just a $1000 fee for his work.

Wann added in the conversation on the Fox News Channel that he originally got the one-off job, which became totally off because two BIPOC interpreters were unavailable for that particular performance.

Wann’s lawyer Josh Pepper described the case as “pretty straightforward…they pretty much admit in their email that they are retracting the offer because he is white.”

The attorney noted that there is a Reconstruction-era statute “that says…that people have the right to contract regardless of their race…We think it’s a strong case that they refused to give him this job because he is white. The statute says you can’t do that, and so we want to recover the money that he would’ve been paid.”

Wann told Fox News co-host Ainsley Earhardt that “wrong is wrong…If you insert a different color, if you insert a different race, it is wrong. You are not allowed to fire somebody because of that reason.”

In an instance perhaps of no good deed going unpunished, the interpreter also refuted some “false narratives” that are in circulation that he is trying to “push into this space.”

Instead, “There was already a team established. They were asking me to come in and help them out,” he explained.

“It’s not the Great White Way,” the Post quipped about the nickname for the well-illuminated Broadway theater district in New York City.

Neither the nonprofit Theatre Development Fund nor the individuals purportedly involved in the controversy have apparently responded to media requests for comment.


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