Picture this. You’re ten years old. You just spent all day at basketball practice at your elementary school.
You come home to your mom telling you the craziest news of your life. You’re the first Black Deaf actor to be nominated for an Emmy in the Guest Actor in a Drama Series category.
Yes, you read that right. 10-year-old “The Last of Us” actor Kevionn Woodard, is making history as the first Black Deaf actor, and youngest actor in history to receive an Emmy nomination in the Guest Actor in a Drama Series category.
In the dynamic world of Hollywood, Woodard is a rising star making waves not only for his talent but also for the breakthrough he represents in the realm of Deaf representation. As a young and inspiring actor, he has not only earned his place in the entertainment industry but is also contributing to the broader conversation about diversity and inclusivity.
The Last of Us and Deaf Representation
At an age where most are finding their footing, Kevionn has already left a lasting impact with his role of “Sam” in “The Last of Us.”
Woodard fondly recalls his early days on set, where the beauty of communication transcended the auditory. His camaraderie with fellow Emmy-nominated co-stars, including Bella Ramsey, Pedro, and Lamar Johnson, went beyond scripted lines.
“Bella really became like a big sister, [they] knew [a bit of] British Sign Language, so [they] also picked up some American Sign Language as well, without the interpreter,” Woodard shared. “Pedro, he was able to [receptively] understand and give hugs and [friendly] gestures.”
But Lamar [Johnson], we were almost like brothers. We would play video games and chat using technology. A lot of [the cast] learned sign language, even though we didn’t ask anybody to do anything. It was an amazing experience—a good representation of what the world should be, everybody interacting and communicating regardless of anything.”
When asked on what advice he had for other actors in similar communities as himself, he told Deadline:
“I think that everybody should just do their best when they’re trying to act and just go for the auditions. Don’t worry about it, and just go ahead and try to act your best. Yes, it was hard with the facial expressions and learning how to [interpret the script for American Sign Language], but I think it’s really important to also learn to listen to your production team and to collaborate with them. I got in, and so can you.”Kevionn Woodard
What’s Next for Kevionn Woodard?
As we anticipate Kevionn Woodard’s future projects, his next venture takes him to Anslem Richardson’s short film, “Fractal.” The film narrates the story of an orphaned Deaf little boy who employs his unique Black Sign Language to communicate with mysterious creatures, seeking solace from the harsh realities of police violence.
Woodard’s talent hasn’t gone unnoticed, receiving acclaim from celebrated actress Marlee Matlin, herself a trailblazer in Deaf representation. Matlin, who won the Best Actress Oscar in 1987, applauded Woodard’s Emmy nomination and celebrated his achievements as the youngest nominee in the Guest Actor category.
“Mom, I got this.”
Behind every triumph, there is a support system, and in Kevionn Woodard’s journey, his mother, April Jackson-Woodard, plays a pivotal role. Keivonn’s mom told Deadline how she had been flooded with messages after her son’s nomination was announced, including from his Last of Us costar Bella Ramsey.
“People kept sending messages, and I cried immediately because I never thought or dreamed it would happen to my son,” she said. “You know, I never even considered it. After Keivonn got the role, I asked myself, ‘How do I even prepare my life?’ It wasn’t easy, especially as a Black Deaf mother and also being a widow. I was trying to take care of everything on my own, but he would say, ‘Mom, I got this.’ And he did.”April Jackson-Woodard, Kevionn Woodard’s mother
As Kevionn Woodard continues to make waves in the entertainment industry, we look forward to see what he accomplishes! A trailblazer in his own right, Kevionn’s story is one of breaking barriers, rewriting narratives, and paving the way for a more inclusive and diverse Hollywood.