Oscar winner Marlee Matlin is no stranger to political drama (she played a brilliant pollster on The West Wing), but now the prominent deaf actor has been dragged into the 2016 race by—you guessed it—Donald Trump's offensive comments. Matlin was a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice in 2011, and several insiders from the show have since come forward to talk about Trump's behavior on set towards her. Fitting every pattern he's shown so far, Trump flipped between lewdly coming on to her and mocking her, in particular calling her "retarded" and imitating her voice. Fellow contestant and original Survivor champion Richard Hatch told People:
Watching him in the boardroom making sexual comments to Marlee Matlin, to all of the women on The Apprentice, it was obvious that that's just a part of who he is. It was obvious and it was grotesque — It was blatant and it was frequent. He did it with Lisa Rinna, He did it with Marlee Matlin. He did it with whomever happened to be there at the time.
He went back and forth with Marlee. No matter how she responded, no matter how politely, he would push it a step further with comments about her looks, and how she was making him feel, and about what he thought of her, and how happy he would be to do something with her. It was a lot of innuendo, far beyond the norm. It was odd and weird, and people in the boardroom would look at one another, but he didn't care. She was with her interpreter, [Jason], and I thought, ‘Gosh, I wonder if he's comfortable with this?
Gross, and hardly surprising at this point. We also know he likes to mock disabilities, which he also seems to fundamentally understand. As one Celebrity Apprentice employee told PerezHilton:
He would make fun of her voice… Like, to make it seem like she was mentally not there? [It] sounded like he got a real kick out of it. It was really upsetting.
PerezHilton talked to two additional employees who confirmed the story, and furthermore elaborated that Trump's notes to himself indicate he genuinely couldn't tell the difference. One crew member said that Trump even spoke to Matlin one-on-one "like she was ‘special'… He took her deafness as a some kind of [mental] handicap."
Another crewmember recalled that during production, "[Trump[ would write notes on his blotter...usually just asinine things on them." One of those notes was apparently a reminder to himself to get to the bottom of a certain mystery: "Marlee, is she retarded??"
That, of course, is the quote that propelled this story into the stratosphere. It wasn't long after that Matlin was alerted to her new role in the election. The star took to Twitter with this eloquent, calm, and focused response:
My response to recent media reports - Marlee. pic.twitter.com/Mkrbh47dUO— Marlee Matlin (@MarleeMatlin) October 14, 2016
Recent media reports have circulated that Donald Trump allegedly referred to me as "retarded." The term is abhorrent and should never be used. The fact we are talking about this during a very important moment in American history has upset me deeply.
I am Deaf. There are millions of Deaf and hard of hearing people like me, in the United States and around the world who face discrimination and misunderstanding like this on a daily basis. It is unacceptable.
So, what's my response? It's not about insults or taking each other down. As a person who is Deaf, as a woman, as a mom, as a wife, as an actor, I have a voice. And I'm using that voice to make myself heard...and vote.
When Trump goes low, Marlee goes high. To those of you wondering how all this will affect Trump's daughter's opinion of him, Hatch also had this depressing observation about Trump hitting on Marlee:
He did it in front of Ivanka. That was not just uncomfortable for me. It was weird. I was fascinated as a people watcher to think what could possibly be going on in that woman's mind. He didn't care that she was there — he didn't seem afraid that she would hold him accountable or say anything about his boorish behavior. None of that happened. He was just that way, and it didn't matter to him one bit that his daughter was listening in.
By the way, Matlin did not wilt or back down during any of this. She made it to the finals on the show before being fired, raising over $1,000,000 for the Starkey Hearing Foundation.