Deafness In Films

How Do I Know?

I am fluent in American Sign Language and have spent quite a bit of my life in the deaf community. I was married to a deaf man for eight years, raised foster children with hearing impairment, and was certified as an interpreter. In this article, I would like to share three films with you that I think give interesting insights into the subject of deafness and the deaf community.

Sound And Fury

Sound And Fury

While I did find this docu-drama to be enjoyable and interesting, I also felt it was rather unbalanced and melodramatic. It showed the worst of deaf and hearing perspectives regarding cochlear implants. It made it seem as if all culturally deaf people (deaf people with deaf parents) wanted to hang onto every deaf child ever born so that they could add to their community, while all hearing people must feel that every deaf child should have a cochlear implant and become hearing as soon as possible. The film, directed by Josh Aronson, examines the conflict that erupts between brothers regarding cochlear implants that might allow their deaf children to hear. One brother is deaf, married to a deaf woman with three deaf children. The other is hearing, married to a hearing woman, and has newborn twins, one of whom is deaf. Add to this a meddling, domineering hearing grandmother who reads stories about the miracle of cochlear implants to the deaf five year old behind the deaf parents' backs, and you have a real mess!

Cochlear Implants: Curse? Blessing? Or Both?

Photographer: Violator3:
Photographer: Violator3:

Either/Or...Or The Best Of Both Worlds?

The film makes it seem as if there are just two polar opposite ways of looking at the choice.  Either, all deaf children must have cochlear implants to make their lives "easier", or all deaf children must remain deaf to take their place in the deaf community.  The fact is, many hearing people do believe that everyone would be better off hearing, but most deaf people do not believe that every deaf child is a potential member of the deaf community and should therefore, be kept deaf.  The predominant way of thinking within the deaf community is that deaf children born to hearing parents should have the cochlear implant so that they will fit in with their own families and be able to enjoy hearing life.  Deaf realize that this will make their lives easier, and they can grow up as hearing children with no loss. However, they also feel that deaf children born to deaf families should remain deaf for the same reasons.  It is difficult for a hearing child to grow up with deaf parents.  It is easier for deaf children to grow up with deaf parents and be members of the rich and full deaf community.  Many deaf parents liken the notion that it is a shame for deaf people to have deaf children with the notion that it is a shame for black people to have black children. In other words, it's not!

The docu-drama also fails to explain the significance of the fact that the entire family under examination - both deaf and hearing members - are very involved in the deaf community.  The mother of the twins is the hearing daughter of deaf parents and signs fluently. The twins' father also signs fluently.  Both twins - the hearing one and the one with the cochlear implant - will grow up as members of the hearing world and the deaf community.  Most deaf would not consider this a loss. The deaf pictured as yelling and carrying on about this twin becoming a "Frankenstein" are radical and unusual.  Most deaf would agree that with two hearing parents and a hearing sibling, this baby would be better off being hearing himself, and in this situation, will be a good ambassador between the two worlds.

So, while this is a good docu-drama - interesting and thought-provoking - take it with a grain of salt.  It shows two extremes of thinking that are not really representative of the situation.

Beyond Silence

You May Also Enjoy...

This is a wonderful German film about the hearing daughter of two deaf parents. The father, Martin is played by well-known deaf actor, Howie Seago. The mother, Kai, is played by deaf actress, Emmanuelle Laborit. I believe she is probably German. The daughter, Laura is played by Sylvie Testud - a German actress. The story centers around Laura's desire to learn to play the clarinet and her parents' inability to understand her love of music. But more than that, it explores the stresses of a hearing child in a deaf home and the challenges and struggles deaf parents face when dealing with well- meaning hearing relatives. This is a very beautiful and touching film. If you are familiar with American Sign Language, you may enjoy comparing it with the German Sign Language as I did.

Through Deaf Eyes

A Balanced Look At Deafness

This is an excellent, balanced documentary that gives a good overview of the history of deafness and American Sign Language. It covers a lot of topics in an even-handed and unemotional manner. It is entertaining and well made. This documentary is narrated by Stockard Channing. It chronicles the history of deaf culture in America starting in the 19th century and carrying the viewer up to the present day. It includes good interviews with actress Marlee Matlin as well as deaf community leaders and other deaf Americans. The film gives a diverse, straightforward look at deafness in America. It also includes some delightful short films created by deaf artists. These are interwoven throughout the film.

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Comments 17 comments

Elena. profile image

Elena. 8 years ago from Madrid

Hi Suzanne!  "Beyond silence" sounds interesting! 

I admit I know little about deafness and its psychological or social impacts, I just recently saw an episode of "Cold Case" where the protagonist was a deaf guy, with deaf parents --the whole case revolved around the guy getting a cochlear implant, and the discussions that caused with his parents and friends.  I found that quite revealing.  Anyhow, thanks for the education!

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 8 years ago from Texas Author

My pleasure! :)

VioletSun profile image

VioletSun 8 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

 Marlee Matleen is a favorite deaf actress of mine, as is Florence Henderson from the Brady Bunch who is hearing impaired. :)

Was thinking that years ago when I was very young and looking for work, I didn't know that the services for the deaf and hearing impaired were handled separately, so I went to the NY Society for the Deaf to get help in finding employment and they in turn sent me to an organization for the hearing impaired. The needs are different; the deaf need to use sign language to communicate, while the hearing impaired, need to learn to speak (that is if their speech has been affected) and lip read in order to function in the regular hearing world. Its interesting, I had picked up lip reading without my being aware, while I was losing hearing,  so when I was sent to lip reading classes, after the second class the teacher said I didn't need them.

Thanks for writing this and educating others.


justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 8 years ago from Texas Author

Interesting! I didn't know Florence Henderson had a hearing impairment. Another person you would not suspect has a hearing impairment is Jackie Chan. His is basically from being hit over the head so often! Actually, I think it is from a specific accident where his hand slipped on a wet limb while he was making a jump. He fell and hit his head on a rock. He was recently fitted with a hearing aid to use when he sings! You can see pictures of his fitting at his website: in his online diary.

Yes, the needs of people with hearing impairment, later deafened adults, and culturally deaf are different. I have read that even hearing people get about 35% of communication from lipreading. It is part of hearing! This is, of course, why I cannot hear well without my glasses! :)

VioletSun profile image

VioletSun 8 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

 I have read that even hearing people get about 35% of communication from lipreading. It is part of hearing! This is, of course, why I cannot hear well without my glasses! :)>>>


I didn't know that! I found out about years ago that one can "hear" accents by lip reading; I was riding a NY subway and two women in front of me were talking,  one moved her lips in such a way that I knew she had an accent even if I couldn't hear her voice because of the loud trains, found this out too when I had the volume down on TV and knew the pronunciation of a name I was not familiar with, by watching the movement of the actor's lip, when I turned the volume up and the name was repeated again, it was exactly as I heard it in my mind.  Fun! 

Will check Jackie Chan out. 

I know we are both night owls, going to sleep, may you have sweet dreams. :)

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 8 years ago from Texas Author

:) Cheers!

BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 8 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

This is great info - and I thank you for it.

No movie critic would have done such an accurate review. "Beyond Silence" sounds intriguing and I will look for it. And Jackie Chan? I didn't know.

Thanks again!

imadork profile image

imadork 8 years ago from St. Peters, MO

I agree that in Sound and Fury they were extreme. It kind of made me angry that they would refuse to possibly restore their child's hearing just for some cultural excuse. I don't really see it as a true cultural group. It is a forced culture due to a physical impairment that may, to a certain extent, exclude them from the hearing world.

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 8 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks BK! I am sure you will enjoy Beyond Silence. It is a lovely movie.

Imadork - Deaf Culture is a true culture as much as Hispanic culture or Black Culture. American Sign Language is a complete language with grammar, rules, and structure. As such, it is recognized as a foreign language in High Schools, Colleges, and Universities. Culturally deaf have a definite and seperate history from hearing people - very much like that of Native Americans in that the hearing culture has tried very hard to crush them. They have been seperated from their families and denied their language and their history and still they hold their culture to be important and true and take great pride in it.

The decisions that were made regarding the children in the film were the decisions that should have been made. It should have been presented that way.

The twin who received the cochlear implant will have an easier life and be able to aspire to his true potential with it because his family is hearing. If the little deaf girl in the deaf family had received one, it would have caused all kinds of problems. Her family is deaf. They live in the deaf world. She would have had a lot of problems fitting in with the hearing world. Her parents would have had a difficult time dealing with her needs as a hearing child. She might never have been able to perform at an optimum level as a hearing child. The fact that her family moved to a strongly deaf community is very positive. They are giving her every opportunity to fulfill her own, innate potential She has a lot more chance of succeeding and excelling completely within the deaf community than she would with one foot shakily in the hearing world and the other in the deaf world.

Both sets of parents made the right choices for their children. That should have been made clear in the program. Neither set of parents was "abusive" as was bandied about by various self-interested parties in the film.

I hope you will watch Through Deaf Eyes. It gives a much clearer picture of deafness as a culture and was not designed to be dramatic, emotion tugging, "reality TV" as Sound & Fury apparently was.

:) Suzanne

dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

Outside of working with deaf persons I have had very little contact with them. There is, in my observation, a problem of communication between deaf and hearing people.Our employers or someone maybe should have had training for the hearing people and the deaf people.It is much like working with people who speak a foreign language and you don't know the language.I admit I tend to be inhibited around handicapped people in general.

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 5 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks for your comment. Under the ADA employers should provide interpreters in the workplace to assist in communication between deaf and hearing employees. Additionally, classes in basic sign and deaf culture are a very good way to bridge this gap in communication.

JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 5 years ago from Deep South, USA

This is a very interesting article about a topic (deaf culture) of which I knew little. My grandson-in-law and granddaughter are studying to become interpreters for the deaf. I will pass along your recommendations of these three films to them.


justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 5 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks, I'm sure they'll enjoy them! :)

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

This is very enlightening Suzanne. I did not realize that sign language between countries was different but should have guessed it...just as spoken language is different. Voted up, useful and interesting.

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

Many thanks! :)

sweetie1 profile image

sweetie1 3 years ago from India

Interesting article and very well written. It is quite amazing to know that like spoken languages, sign language can differ from country to country. Voting it up and sharing .

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

Many thanks! :)

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