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Marlee Matlin: Fake Nelson Mandela Interpreter 'Was Offensive to Me'

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Marlee Matlin (Michael Kovac/WireImage)

While it's hardly surprising that deaf actress Marlee Matlin was as offended as the rest of us by the South African "sign language interpreter" (we use that title loosely) who appeared at Nelson Mandela's memorial, she is able to offer some insight as to what actually went down — and how she knew he was faking.

"I've been to South Africa before and I can understand some of the South African sign language," she explained on "Erin Burnett OutFront." "But I thought to myself, 'Wait a minute. This isn't anything.' It was almost like he was doing baseball signs."

But that wasn't what gave Thamsanqa Jantjie away to the Oscar winner.

"Sign language is not international … but in this case each language shares something, which is facial expressions as part of the grammar," she revealed. Apparently, Jantjie was missing that part.

"To see someone standing there without any sort of movement of his body, without any sort of facial expressions that one incorporates into sign, indicates that he has no understanding of the culture, no understanding of the language. I knew exactly right then and there that he wasn't authentic at all. And it was offensive. It was offensive to me."

Jantjie, however, stands by his... er… performance.

"I have never in my life had anything that said I have interpreted wrong," he insisted to CNN on Thursday. "It has been many years I have been doing this job. My portfolio shows that I have been a champion of what I have been doing."

That claim aside, the 34-year-old did also admit that he suffers from schizophrenia, quickly adding that, while it is "controllable," he suffered an unfortunately-timed episode while he was on stage for this somber event.

But Matlin – and the rest of the world – doesn't seem to be buying his story.

"I was appalled," she lamented. "I knew that at any moment, the entire world, whoever was watching, there would be so much noise it would create an explosion. And it did."

The Deaf Federation of South Africa has since denounced Jantjie as a "fake," stating that he is not known to the deaf community in this country at all, which didn't do much to help the credibility of his story.

It seems at this point, the only question left to ask is: Who hired this guy?

 

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