“Deaf U” trailer sparks conversation around media representation

Photo courtesy of Public Domain, Wikipedia

Netflix has dropped a new trailer for their next reality television program, and this show is unlike any program they have done before. Netflix’s newest reality show “Deaf U” follows a group of friends at the historic Gallaudet University. It is set to premiere on Oct. 9. 

The trailer displays some of the classic themes of a coming of age show, such as love, sex, and worries about fitting in. However, this is not your ordinary reality show. The reason for this is that the entire cast is Deaf. 

The show’s setting, Gallaudet University, is a historically Deaf college that was established with the goal of providing Deaf people with equal educational experiences. Gallaudet designed all of their programs to accommodate Deaf students and is a bilingual school (with ASL & English). It is widely recognized as one of the best colleges for Deaf individuals. The show's executive producer is Nyle DiMarco, an alum of Gallaudet. 

DiMarco rose to fame on the show “America’s Next Top Model” when he became the first-ever Deaf contestant and winner featured on the program. He then became a world-famous model and went on to win “Dancing With The Stars." These victories propelled him into the spotlight, where he has used his platform to bring awareness to issues faced by the Deaf community. One of these issues was the lack of Deaf representation in film and television.

There has been a lack of authentic Deaf characters in television and film. According to the 2015 USC Annenberg report, of all TV and film characters who speak or are named, only 2.5% are disabled. More jarringly so, 95% of them are played by able-bodied people, according to the 2016 Ruderman White Paper. On the rare occasion a Deaf character is portrayed, they are often played by a hearing person and behave in stereotypical fashions. 

The Deaf community's most prominent actress is Marlee Matlin. She won an Oscar for her film “Children of a Lesser God” and has been making television appearances since then in shows such as “The West Wing” and “The L Word.” She has always provided a fair and accurate portrayal of a Deaf person in an environment where those portrayals are few and far in between.

Luckily, Hollywood is growing along with the times, with more accurate Deaf representation occurring in recent years. The television show “Switched at Birth” featured many Deaf main characters, who were primarily played by Deaf actors. 

Netflix has also been improving in their Deaf representation by having Deaf main characters on their show “The Society," featuring lead actor Sean Berdy. The 2018 film “A Quiet Place” cast lead Deaf actor Millicent Simmons. In their most recent season, the DC Comics show "Titans" added the superhero character Jericho to the show's roster. Jericho is mute and communicates via ASL in the comic books he originates from. They chose to cast Deaf actor Chella Man for this role.

All of this recent representation is on a well-projected to continue. Marvel has followed in the path of DC Comics and has also included Deaf representation in their upcoming film “The Eternals." Marvel cast Laurel Ridloff as a speedster named Makkari, a character who was originally hearing in the comics– and was a white male, as opposed to Ridloff who is a POC woman. Her casting will make her the first-ever Deaf superhero in the MCU. 

As it seems, Deaf representation is finally being seen in scripted media. With Netflix’s reality show “Deaf U,” we will have a real, raw glimpse into the lives of college students who belong to an important culture the media has been hesitant to show in the past, but is now finally being brought into the light. 

 

mkrasny@ramapo.edu