Even if you aren’t an avid viewer of reality television, you know its basic formula. Often the cast is comprised of a group of attractive people in overly dramatized (possibly orchestrated) conflicts. There’s gossip, sex, drama, tears and so much more. People love to watch this kind of television or they love to hate on it: sometimes even both at the same time.
Netflix and executive producer Nyle DiMarco, a Deaf model and actor, took this format and gave it a burst of new life. Their new take on reality television has garnered massive attention, reaching out to viewers who may have never seen people like them represented on a scene in this way.
Reality show “Deaf U” follows a group of Deaf college students at Gallaudet University, a historically Deaf college that is bilingual with ASL and English as their primary languages. These students are like any other students with college problems. They worry about friendships, romance, family issues and their mental health. In addition to these typical college problems, their deafness uniquely affects the way they approach these problems both in their school and in a world that wasn’t designed with them in mind.
The cast is incredibly diverse and features students from very different backgrounds. The stars of “Deaf U” are Cheyenna Clearbrook, Rodney Buford, Alexa Paulay-Simmons, Renate Rose, Daequan Taylor, Dalton Taylor and Tessa Lewis. Besides these main cast members, other colorful characters populate the screen along with them to create a true motley crew of a cast. They differ in race, beliefs, social status, gender, sexuality and even level of deafness. One thing among them is the same though: they’re having one hell of a wild ride at Gallaudet.
“Deaf U” provides a window into Deaf culture by demonstrating the complex intricacies of how Deaf people classify themselves within the community. Like in hearing culture, there are subsets within a community. People who have several generations of Deaf people in their family and went to all Deaf schools are considered to be Deaf “elite.” The series demonstrates that occasionally these “elites” can judge other Deaf people for their level of deafness, ASL ability or if they choose to wear hearing aids or a cochlear implant.
This factor is actually one of the reasons the show is so groundbreaking in terms of the insight it is giving into the Deaf community. Deaf culture often has not been explored by mainstream media and the only windows into this community previously had been to be a part of it, or on rare occasions, to see it through the eyes of a creator. Often the creators are hearing people, and don’t present the community in an accurate fashion as a result. Nyle DiMarco, the reality shows executive producer is just getting started in his career behind the camera. “Deaf U” is one of many projects DiMarco has in the works that highlight Deaf individuals and culture, so we can expect more Deaf representation in the future.
“Deaf U” is the perfect next reality show binge. It fills its audience with the juicy plots of any other beloved reality series, all while providing new insights and perspectives on communities we may not be too familiar with. The show does an incredible job creating a space for Deaf people, especially Deaf college students, and it gives us representation the media needs more of.