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Madagascar: A Little Wild Leading the Way on Deaf and ASL Inclusion in Animation

Presented in Partnership with DreamWorks Animation

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Have you seen DreamWorks Animation’s Madagascar: A Little Wild on Hulu or Peacock TV yet? For six seasons, RespectAbility Vice Chair Delbert Whetter, along with Jevon Whetter and Justin Maurer, consulted on this series, which includes a deaf character who uses sign language; the character’s sister also signs. Chimpanzee siblings Dave and Pickles are breaking barriers and are part of a movement changing the landscape of disability representation in children’s television and streaming content. Dave and Pickles have a meaningful story arc throughout the entire series and Dave is not defined by his deafness.

New this season, a little girl named and modeled after deaf actress Shaylee Mansfield trades cards with Dave at the zoo. She was animated by using a video reference of her performing the role. In what is possibly a first for deaf performers, she is credited alongside the “audible” voice actors for her “sign over” performance in the episode “‘Gloria’s Got ‘Em All.”

Learn from the team’s ASL consultants as well as Executive Producer Johanna Stein and Actress Shaylee Mansfield on how they worked together to bring about dynamic deaf characters.

“When it comes to animation, there’s no excuse not to create a show filled with diverse characters. As animators we are world builders, we are literally creating all of the elements from scratch,” said EP Johanna Stein. Learn More: “Madagascar: A Little Wild” Takes Deaf Representation to the Next Level.


  • Shaylee Mansfield, Actress, Madagascar: A Little Wild
  • Johanna Stein, Executive Producer, Madagascar: A Little Wild
  • Delbert Whetter, Deaf filmmaker and RespectAbility Vice Chair
  • Jevon Whetter, Deaf filmmaker and ASL dialogue coach
  • Justin Maurer, ASL interpreter who is a “CODA” (a child of deaf adults)
  • Moderator: Lauren Appelbaum, RespectAbility VP, Entertainment & News Media

Speakers Bios

Shaylee Mansfield smiling headshotShaylee Mansfield, Deaf YouTuber turned into an actress, caught the world’s attention when several of her videos went viral garnering millions of hits. She starred in ASL Nook for more than 50 episodes inspiring families and children worldwide to learn American Sign Language (ASL). Since then, Shaylee has appeared in the Deaf Out Loud documentary produced by Jon Murray and Marlee Matlin, nationwide commercials, TV shows (This CloseBunk’D), and films (Disney+ Noelle, Netflix’s Feel the Beat13 Minutes).

Johanna Stein smiling headshotJohanna Stein serves as executive producer for Madagascar: A Little Wild, the new series based on Madagascar’s Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe and Gloria the Hippo as kids residing in their rescue habitat at the Central Park Zoo.

Stein previously served as a writer for DreamWorks’ Emmy® nominated Prime Video original series Kung Fu Panda: The Paws of Destiny and a staff writer on DreamWorks Netflix original series Home: Adventures with Tip & Oh and Disney’s Wander Over Yonder. She also created a “Momhead”, a viral video based on a chapter in her book How Not to Calm a Child on a Plane featuring the insults said by her young daughter.

Stein is a graduate of University of Winnipeg and the American Film Institute, and currently resides in Los Angeles.

Delbert Whetter smiling wearing a suit jacket and glassesDelbert Whetter is the Chief Operating Officer and Head of Business Affairs for Exodus Film Group. He served as the lead business affairs executive for numerous entertainment and digital content providers for nearly two decades. Delbert has negotiated talent and production agreements including acquisition, development, and film financing arrangements, and licenses of intellectual properties. He has worked on Exodus animated features, IGORThe Hero of Color City, and Bunyan & Babe, receiving Co-Executive Producer credit on Exodus’ two recent films. Delbert earned his law degree from the George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C., and his MBA from Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management.

Delbert serves as Vice Chair on the Board of Directors of RespectAbility, a national non-profit organization that works with Hollywood to promote inclusion, representation, and authentic portrayals of people with disabilities in media. He also serves on the Disability Advisory Board of SFFILM. He was appointed in 2018 by the City of Santa Monica to serve a four-year term on its Disabilities Commission and currently serves as its Vice Chair.

He is frequently engaged to consult, speak and conduct trainings at numerous entertainment studios, companies and organizations including Hollywood, Health & Society, Walt Disney Studios and its affiliated film/television entities, NBC, DreamWorks Animation, Netflix, and Six Flags Theme Parks.

Delbert is executive producing the upcoming animated feature film Pierre the Pigeon-Hawk, starring the voices of, Jennifer Hudson, Snoop Dogg, Howie Mandel and Whoopi Goldberg.

Delbert is currently producing Flash Before the Bang, a live-action narrative feature film based on a true story about an all-deaf high-school track & field championship team (Film Independent 2020 Fast Track Finance Market & 2018 Producing Lab, 2019 PGA Power of Diversity Master Workshop, 2019 SFFILM Rainin Grant recipient, & 2019 WGA Disability Scene), and Live at the Deaf Club: The Story of Punk Rock at the San Francisco Deaf Club, a documentary about the legendary 1970’s punk rock venue (2020 California Humanities Grant recipient).

Jevon Whetter smiling headshotJevon Whetter earned his MFA in Producing from the American Film Institute Conservatory, where he produced over four different short narrative films, directed fight scenes as fight director, and worked on over fifteen short films. Jevon produced a well-received short AFI thesis film, SHORT ON TIME, starring Frances Bay that aired on the ShortsTV cable network. Few years ago, Jevon co-produced, CODA, a short USC thesis film written and directed by Erika Davis-Marsh, starring CJ Jones and Ryan Lane.

Along with his brother, Delbert, Jevon participated in the 2019 Producer’s Guild of America’s Power of Diversity workshop for his feature film project, FLASH BEFORE THE BANG. His screenplay was recently showcased at the Disability Scene Showcase at the Writer’s Guild of America and was selected by Film Independent for its 2018 Producing Lab program. FLASH BEFORE THE BANG is a recipient of the 2019 SFFILM Rainin Grant.

In 1992, Jevon first launched his professional career in the performing arts right after graduating from Gallaudet University when he was hired to perform with the internationally acclaimed National Theatre of the Deaf (NTD) mainstage touring production company, touring North America and Ireland. Jevon also holds a Master of Arts in Theatre Arts from San Diego State University with honors from the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society. Jevon founded the Performing Arts program at the California School for the Deaf, Riverside and taught High School Drama classes for ten years. During his graduate school years, Jevon also studied under fight director Gregory Hoffman at the Dueling Arts Academy, receiving extensive stage combat training in six different weapon-fighting styles in Las Vegas, Nevada and Honolulu, Hawaii.

As the adjunct professor of ASL and Deaf Theatre course at California State University – Northridge for the past eight years, Jevon wrote and directed several theatrical productions for the stage: SURDSHAT IN THE SANDTHE JUMPERASL CURSE, EPHPHETA, and REEL CREATURES as well as Glenn Devlin’s THE ASSIMILATION.

Jevon’s professional stage experience includes NTD’s OPHELIA tour and appearances at the Deaf West Theatre in ALADDINA CHRISTMAS CAROL, and Mark Medoff’s ROAD TO REVOLUTION. Jevon worked at the Fountain Theatre as an ASL Dialogue Coach, along with Lisa Hermatz, for their award-winning production of ARRIVAL AND DEPARTURE. Jevon’s professional credits as a director for the stage include Samuel Beckett’s KRAPP’S LAST TAPE at Deaf West Theatre and FALLING ON DEAF EYES at the 2019 Hollywood Fringe Festival, which he co-wrote with Justin Maurer.

Jevon currently works as an educator in the Los Angeles Unified School District and continues to work as a producer, director, and writer for numerous stage and film projects in Los Angeles, where he resides with his wife, Kimberly, and son, Robert.

Justin Maurer headshotJustin Maurer is a CODA (Child of a Deaf Adult) and a professional American Sign Language interpreter, consultant, writer, producer, performer, and musician based in Los Angeles. He works full time as an American Sign Language interpreter and consultant. He frequently interprets high profile events, award ceremonies, meetings, political speeches, television appearances, interviews, and more. He has interpreted on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Entertainment Tonight, and Shark Tank. As a freelance interpreter, he is experienced and proficient in educational, medical, and other fields. He also has interpreted for many musical performances including Stray Kids, Ozomatli, Aloe Blacc, Tom Morello, Alice Bag, The Avengers, and The Linda Lindas.

From 2019-2020, he had the honor of interpreting for Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, former First Lady Michelle Obama, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti as well as interpreting for the historic Los Angeles Teachers Strike of January 2019 and via the BIPOC-lead collective, ProBono Interpreters, for the Los Angeles Black Lives Matter Uprising in 2020. He also has interpreted for RespectAbility’s Summer Lab for Emerging Disabled Filmmakers in 2019 and 2020.

His ASL interpreting and consultation experience includes entertainment industry stalwarts The Jimmy Kimmel Show, Entertainment Tonight, NBC/Universal, ABC, Fox, Sony Pictures, Paramount, Lionsgate, Disney, DreamWorks, Writers Guild of America West (WGA), Producers Guild of America (PGA), and Screen Actors Guild of America (SAG-AFTRA). His autobiographical play “Falling On Deaf Eyes,” which Jevon directed and Delbert produced, premiered and had a seven show run at the Hollywood Fringe Festival in 2019.

As a strong advocate for the Deaf community, he always employs Deaf team members when he is hired as an ASL Consultant for scripts, films, or television. He recently conducted five seminars of Deaf Awareness training with his Deaf business partner. CODAs and Deaf partners make for a great team. As an advocate for the Deaf Community, he strongly encourages all ASL Consultants, ASL Dialogue Coaches, ASL Masters, ASL interpreters, and CODAs to include Deaf community members as a part of their consulting teams.

head shot of Lauren wearing an orange blazer, smiling and facing the camera color photoLauren Appelbaum is the VP, Communications and Entertainment & News Media, of RespectAbility, a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities so all people with disabilities can fully participate in every aspect of community. As an individual with an acquired nonvisible disability – Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy – she works at the intersection of disability, employment, Hollywood and politics. She regularly conducts trainings on the why and how to be more inclusive and accessible for entertainment executives throughout the industry. Appelbaum partners with studios, production companies and writers’ rooms to create equitable and accessible opportunities to increase the number of people with lived disability experience throughout the overall story-telling process. These initiatives increase diverse and authentic representation of disabled people on screen, leading to systemic change in how society views and values people with disabilities.

She has consulted on more than 100 TV episodes and films with A&E, Bunim-Murray Productions, NBCUniversal, Netflix, ViacomCBS, and The Walt Disney Company, among others. She represents RespectAbility on the CAA Full Story Initiative Advisory Council, Disney+ Content Advisory Council, MTV Entertainment Group Culture Code and Sundance Institute’s Allied Organization Initiative. She is the author of The Hollywood Disability Inclusion Toolkit and the creator of an innovative Lab Program for entertainment professionals with disabilities working in development, production and post-production. She is a recipient of the 2020 Roddenberry Foundation Impact Award for this Lab.

Meet the Author

Eric Ascher

Eric Ascher is the Communications Associate for RespectAbility. He is responsible for supporting RespectAbility’s Vice President, Communications in developing and implementing advocacy efforts and communications of various types. Ascher manages RespectAbility’s social media channels, website and emails; organizes and develops webinars; and supervises Communications Fellows.

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