The Oscar-nominated film, Sound of Metal, which explores the experience of drummer Ruben Stone (played by Riz Ahmed) as he navigates his journey with sudden hearing loss, identity, and belonging, was at the forefront of our conversation Thursday, May 27th for our Disability Studies Inclusion Labs event, Critical Conversations: Deaf Representation and Sound of Metal. The event drew a crowd of 282 attendees (faculty, staff, students, and community members) and sparked more questions than our panelists had time to unpack. After a dynamic conversation between UCLA’s ASL instructor Benjamin Lewis, graduate student, John Pak, and undergraduates Rowan O’Bryan and Monique Sims, and Sound of Metal’s actor, Deaf consultant, and ASL instructor, Jeremy Lee Stone, one particularly interesting question remained unanswered. The question posed asked about the relationship between the last name of the main character, Ruben Stone, and the last name of our panelist, Jeremy Lee Stone. Was it a coincidence? Or was there more to the shared last name?
As it turns out, there was more to it- a whole lot more.
Stone is a self-proclaimed last name that reflects Jeremy’s personal journey. To Stone, his surname, Sanchez, which is a patronymic surname that means “son of Sancto,” represents the complicated relationship between Stone and his father. “My father left because I was deaf,” Stone shared with us. “My brother is also deaf, my older brother. So, you know, there was all of this discontent within our family. Spanish culture typically looks for a male heir. They want their child to be similar to them. So, to have a child who was deaf…It really is such a trigger for me that my father and I don’t share a strong relationship.”
In regards to his decision to go with Stone, Jeremy shared, “I felt like a stone itself has different identities, different shapes. Stones can be rough, smooth, or different colors. That was representative of my own personal journey and my growth and change. I felt that reflected my name better than Sanchez.” The decision to revoke his birth-given last name demonstrates a deep sense of self-love and liberation, and we’re here for it – but how did the name end up in the film?
Stone and Riz Ahmed, who played Ruben Stone in the film, spent a great deal of time with each other prior to filming. Stone was charged with teaching Ahmed American Sign Language (ASL) for his role in the film. During their time together, their bond grew. When Ahmed learned about the origin of Jeremy’s last name, “He was like, wow! That’s so powerful! Do you mind if I use your last name for this character? The character has a journey through struggles as well,” Stone shared. “I was like yeah, go for it. And that was that.” But to us, and to many who have been discarded, disregarded, or disenfranchised by ableism, it is so much more than that.
The use of Stone in the film represents hope and the collective liberation (past, present, and future) from the ableist barricades that have held people with disabilities and divergencies back for far too long. It’s time for the disabled community to turn over a new stone, start a new chapter, and take back their power. Jeremy Lee Stone exemplifies this perfectly and we are honored to know him, his story, and his ‘why’.