Nyle DiMarco on How Hollywood Can Improve Representation of People With Disabilities
Nyle DiMarco is now an awards show host. The actor — and winner of “America’s Next Top Model” and “Dancing With the Stars” — is hosting the Media Access Awards on Nov. 19.
The annual event celebrates and honors the accurate portrayal and employment of people with disabilities across all forms of media. The virtual gala comes on the heels of DiMarco’s producing debut, “Deaf U,” a Netflix reality show about students at his alma mater Gallaudet University, a college for deaf and hard of hearing students, that premiered in early October.
“The Media Access Awards reached out maybe two months ago and I was like, ‘Absolutely!’” DiMarco, 31, told Variety through an American Sign Language interpreter. “I’ve always wanted to host an award show. I presented at the GLAAD awards a couple of years ago so I was always hoping for more opportunities.”
Is this your audition to host the Oscars one day?
Hey, I’m working my way up. The Oscars should consider me.
Tell me about the first time you saw yourself represented on a TV show or in a movie.
To be honest, the first time that ever happened was on my own TV show, “Deaf U.” It was an incredibly powerful moment because growing up I’d never seen an authentic representation of who I am on-screen. Often times, the characters that were portrayed were inauthentically written because hearing people had a hand in crafting them or were responsible for crafting them. I didn’t really connect with their storylines and really connect with their representation. So it was incredibly empowering, not only to create my own content, but to feel represented on screen. I hope to see more opportunities like that with my upcoming projects and with Hollywood in general starting to actually pull in people with disabilities behind the camera to really represent who we are. During my experiences on “America’s Next Top Model” and also “Dancing With the Stars,” I always felt branded as sort of one-dimensional. I was just the deaf person. There was no real deep dive into who I am, what I liked, what I do every day and things like that.
What do you think are the biggest hurdles right now in Hollywood for people with disabilities?
I think so much of it has to do with actually including people behind the camera. Most often, inclusion means putting an actor on-screen and you’re done. You’ve done your homework, you’ve checked the boxes, but in fact that’s not enough. We want to see authenticity happen and authenticity happens on screen by employing people behind the camera. Obviously Hollywood has a lot of work to do.
What’s your absolute dream project?
It’s my upcoming half-hour comedy scripted series [on Spectrum] that I have with Daniel Dae Kim’s production company. It’s a comedy that I’m leading and is very loosely based on my own life. It’s incredible to be able to executive produce it and also to be able to star in it. That’s been my dream since I started in this industry. I’m also currently working on a feature film about Deaf President Now, which was a civil rights movement that happened for the deaf community in 1988 and provided some traction to the passage of the ADA law in 1990. [Deaf President Now was a movement by Gallaudet students that resulted in the school naming its first deaf president in the history of the 124-year-old college.]
How has Hollywood changed from the day you won “America’s Next Top Model” in 2015 to today?
So much. There’s a lot more American Sign Language content out there now in films and TV since my time at “America’s Next Top Model.” I’ve seen a lot more deaf actors making their way into Hollywood, which is incredible. It’s great to see. We’re seeing a lot more opportunities. In the beginning, it was really hard for me in Hollywood. It was really hard to try to make it as an actor or even try to get auditions for roles and have a chance to read for writers and directors and producers and casting directors. All of those people would always tell me the same thing, “Nyle, we love you, we think you’re great. We really dig your energy, but we don’t know how to write you into the show.” I eventually came to realize that it wasn’t their fault. They don’t understand the culture of the community, but it was a moment for me that offered me time to develop my own content and my own thing.