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?
Deaf Culture Resources
Cochlear Implant Resources
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.
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.