The Walking Dead star Angel Theory, who is hard-of-hearing, was “verbally assaulted” by a member of the security staff at Walker Stalker Atlanta, according to friend and co-star Nadine Marissa. Detailing the “very disturbing” situation in a stream on Instagram Live, Marissa says Theory was confronted by a “really abrasive” security guard when attending the unofficial Walking Dead-themed convention over the weekend. Marissa says the security guard yelled at Theory in a “very demeaning manner” over the presence of her service dog, Nova, causing a commotion. Marissa further condemns the convention and owner James Frazier for failing to provide Theory and other convention attendees with an American Sign Language interpreter.
“While playing with Nova — Angel cannot hear — her hearing aid is off, because this place is humungous, and it’s noisy,” Marissa says in the video, captured in a recording of the stream. During a break from meeting fans and posing for pictures, Theory began to play with Nova, described as weighing “less than a pound.”
“So Angel’s playing around with Nova, the security guard begins to scream at her to ‘Stop, pick up the dog,’ in a very demeaning manner. Enough that he caused a commotion,” Marissa says. “Now, all of this could have been avoided if the security guard walked up to tap her, to ask her to pick Nova up. And it would have been over. That’s not what happened. The security guard started yelling at her in a demeaning tone, to get the dog. ‘Stop, stop, stop!’”
When a booking agent stepped in, telling the security guard Theory could not hear him, the security guard accused Theory of “ignoring” him, Marissa says.
“Now also, if this security guard was provided the information that she was hearing impaired, he would have known that she doesn’t speak that way. She can’t hear you. So he continued to pretty much verbally assault her, and say, ‘Pick up the dog, you’re not listening to me,’” she says. “Well, Angel sees that there’s a commotion going — remember, at this point, Angel still cannot hear. She physically cannot hear. So all she sees is a commotion happening. She picks up Nova and she walks over. So when she walks over to try to understand what’s going on, there’s no interpreter there to explain to her that something needs to happen.”
Marissa adds the security guard made the comment, “’She was gonna hit me, she was gonna hit me.’” But Theory “never even said anything.”
The commotion drew the attention of “police officers in full gear holding pretty much assault rifles,” Marissa says. Despite attempts to explain Nova is a service dog, the security guard grew “really abrasive.”
“As that’s happening, of course, the officers who are carrying guns are walking up, trying to see what’s happening. That’s what their job is, to walk up and see what’s happening,” Marissa says. “Can you imagine, being deaf, not knowing what’s happening, you turn around, and there are two to three officers standing behind you, holding rifles? None were pointed at her, but they were standing there.”
She continues, “In the society we have now, where minorities — especially blacks — are ‘shoot first and answer later,’ this is what she turns around and sees. So you can imagine the fear in her eyes.”
Marissa then immediately went to Theory, who was still unaware of what was happening. Marissa argues the situation could have been eased with the presence of an interpreter.
"As we’re all learning, no one’s there to tell her what’s going on. We’re trying, but she should have been provided that,” Marissa says. “That’s the decency she deserves, and it’s a law.”
Frazier was nearby but did not take the proper steps to deescalate the situation, Marissa says.
“After five minutes of standing there, I made the comment to him, ‘Can you handle that?’ And I was told, ‘It’s handled,’” she adds. “He walks over and the first thing that is said to her is, ‘I have a disabled child and I’m also learning ASL, so I understand where you’re coming from. I have over 100 members of security here, and it’s impossible for me to let them know all of my guests’ needs.’ Which is not true. That’s not true. Last year, everyone knew what was needed. Last year it ran smooth. … So it’s not impossible. It’s irresponsible to not do it, but not impossible. So I found that very disturbing, very disturbing.”
According to Marissa, an unnamed member who is talent reported being told “‘Angel didn’t need an interpreter because she could talk.’”
“That has boiled my blood so much, because yes, Angel can talk, but that’s not her requirement. Her requirement is an ASL interpreter. Because although she can talk, she can not hear the talking,” Marissa explains. “Which is unfair. Unfair to her.”
Marissa was later approached by a mother whose daughter was in need of an interpreter during a guest panel. According to the woman, an interpreter was not provided.
“A fan approached me and said, ‘I dealt with the same thing. I was told with my daughter, with there being no interpreter, ‘Sit her close to the stage so she can read the lips.’’ That’s not how it works. That’s not how it works,” Marissa says. “That’s not what happens. Angel can read lips when her hearing aid is on, when she can hear. She will tell you, if you’ve ever met her, ‘Slow down, slow down,’ and she will look at you, and she will try. Because she is combining her hearing with being able to see you. She can’t do that, she’s in a convention center where things are loud.”
Theory previously spoke out against the convention, after co-stars Khary Payton and Cooper Andrews severed ties with Walker Stalker Con. Theory said the convention failed to pay its celebrity guests.
“One thing I can say is I genuinely enjoyed my time doing it, I love getting to engage with the fans and talk to you guys and get to meet y’all and take goofy, silly photos, it’s supposed to be a fun thing. It’s supposed to be fun for the both of us — for the fans and for the actors themselves,” Theory said in an Instagram Live stream over the summer. “However, it is not fun when it comes to not getting paid from the Walker Stalker company, what is owed to the actors. Just like you guys, y’all not getting y’all refunds back, the actors are not getting paid.”
What happened to Theory over the weekend is “not fair,” Marissa says.
“Angel Theory will go above and beyond for any fan. You know that. She will go live, she will talk with you, she will sit with you as long as she’s needed. She has spoken up several times about comments that you all have shared with her, about your experience, in anything, and Angel is there. She’s there. She’s always supportive, and talking, and there. And it’s not fair, it’s not fair what happened to her.”
Stop using your disabled kids as a way to try and “empathize” because you are not adequate enough to run a smooth going business...DONT MAKE ME PULL OUT THESE RECEIPTS JAMES💯💯💯— Angel Theory (@IamAngeltheory) October 21, 2019
Theory posted a message aimed at Frazier on Twitter, writing, “Stop using your disabled kids as a way to try and ‘empathize’ because you are not adequate enough to run a smooth going business... DONT MAKE ME PULL OUT THESE RECEIPTS JAMES.”
In a followup message, Theory tweeted, “He apologized and again mentioned his adopted kids with disabilities... [shake my head]... stop using that as an excuse! If you hire deaf/hoh [hard-of-hearing] talent or supporters make sure they have accessibility. Don’t tell the deaf community to sit in the front row and try to read lips. [Shaking my f***ing head].”2comments
Theory’s progressive hearing loss has been incorporated into TWD Season 10. In the season opener, Connie (Lauren Ridloff), sister of Theory’s character Kelly, told her it’s “not a disability, it’s a damn superpower.”