Deaf Latina Actress Stephanie Nogueras Is Pushing For More Inclusivity
“Don’t forget about people with disabilities when you’re talking about diversity and inclusion,” actress and activist Stephanie Nogueras says in an interview with POPSUGAR. As a deaf woman of Puerto Rican descent making it in the entertainment industry, she knows something about what it takes to build real representation. Nogueras explains that while she has been made to feel invisible at times and has been judged and discriminated against because she’s deaf, she also has hope and believes people are becoming “more open-minded and open-hearted,” especially in recognizing and valuing deaf talent. Just look at this year’s Academy Awards. It may have been overshadowed by “the slap,” but the best picture Oscar went to “CODA,” a film that tells the story of a child of deaf adults who must balance her own dreams against threats to her family.
There’s also evidence of change in Nogueras’s career. Acting since 2013, it’s been a “fast journey,” but also one full of challenges. She’s appeared on the critically acclaimed “The Good Fight” and as a deaf mermaid in “Grimm” (an experience she describes as “cool, random . . . and artistic.”). Now she’s featured in the latest half-hour comedy, “Killing It.”
The show stars Craig Robinson as Craig, a down-on-his-luck dad who’s trying to figure out how to make it in business and life despite his lack of resources. Nogueras plays his ex-wife, Camille, who gives Craig both tough love and encouragement as they coparent their teenage daughter, Vanessa (played by Jet Miller). And both Camille’s Latinidad and her deafness are completely normalized. They are unremarked upon and integrated as part of the texture of the characters’ lives.
The show opens with Craig giving a monologue about how he got rich despite the obstacles. The show then jumps back, promising to tell the story of Craig’s rise. As the show goes on, his eventual success just seems farther away as he embarks on a snake-killing contest and loses his car and apartment in short order. For her part, Nogueras relates to the show’s themes, remembering growing up in a family that stressed over money to the point where it affected their relationships with each other.
But she’s proud the show doesn’t pretend that financial success is the most important thing. “Some people feel like to be successful and happy, you need to have money, but that’s not always the answer.” For her, the American dream “really boils down to family [and] having a stable mental health situation, and that’s not always dependent on money.”
While the plot of “Killing It” is certainly driven by Craig’s money-making adventures, the show is not a celebration of winner-take-all capitalism: it’s more a look at how unfair our system really is. Craig has a safety net thanks to Camille’s support, but his snake-hunting partner Claudia O’Doherty’s Jillian does not. An orphan, she’s alone and homeless (she sleeps in her car), looking for love and security wherever she can find it. In “Killing It,” Craig and Jillian are the heroes while the rich folks – whether Tim Heidecker as a Trump-esque businessman or “The Good Place”‘s D’Arcy Carden as a bored, clueless rich woman – are played for laughs.
At first, I was worried that Nogueras’s Camille was also more of a caricature than a character, specifically the nagging wife who stands in the way of the more dynamic man protagonist. Even when they’re right (think Skylar in “Breaking Bad”), these women get the short end of the stick. But while Camille does remind Craig that as a father, he has certain responsibilities, she is not a roadblock.
Nogueras recognises that “as Latin woman, we typically are in control. We say, ‘Look, I got this.’ In my family, a lot of the women are strong. We don’t need the men.” Nogueras brings that attitude to Camille, letting her have an “it is what it is” approach to Craig. He’s going to make money, or not, and she knows she’ll just keep taking care of her family regardless. She’s a “go-with-the-flow type of girl” who supports Craig and his “crazy ideas” because “she understands where he’s coming from.” So when he really needs her, she’s there, whether he asks for her support or not. And, with those scenes, she ultimately falls on the likable side, avoiding the nagging-wife stereotype.
Nogueras hopes that’s not the only stereotype Camille bucks: “A lot of people have misunderstandings with regards to deaf people – they think that we’re a burden.” But seeing Camille live a normal life shows it doesn’t have to be like that. “We’re funny, we’re dynamic, we have great personalities. And my hope is really that the stereotypes out there are broken down and that people will start to hire more deaf people and more people with disabilities and think more about accessibility.”
Personally, I hope the Latinx community shows up for Nogueras and other deaf Latinxs and Latinxs with disabilities. They’re an important and vibrant part of our community who shouldn’t be treated like they are invisible. This is Nogueras’s time to shine.