Saturday, May 21, 2011

Jules Dameron on Deaf Women in Film

Following up on our previous post about Alyssa Dole, we wanted to go into a bit more depth on the subject of deaf women working in film. So we contacted filmmaker Julia (Jules) Dameron, the founder of Deaf Women in Film. Here are some things she wanted us to know:

“How many deaf and hard of hearing people are actually out there? According to the National Association of the Deaf, about 17% of all people in the United States are deaf, hard of hearing, late-deafened or deaf-blind--in a simple word to summarize it all: deaf. That’s a lot of people, roughly 36 million people just in the U.S. Over four times the population of New York City. And roughly half of them are women, a community that itself has been historically marginalized and disempowered.

Deaf Women in Film is not an official organization, but a gathering of people who need to be recognized for their unique circumstances in our society. The deaf and hard of hearing communities are very naturally close knit, sharing a wonderfully unique way of life and communicating, whether it be in the form of sign language, visual gestures, or the written word.

“Are there any deaf women in film? ‘Oh, wait! I know about Marlee Matlin. She won that Oscar for Children of a Lesser God in the 80s.’ That’s pretty much all the general public knows about us. Marlee Matlin is truly a fine actress and a wonderful representative for deaf people today. However, there are many more talents out there, and I want everyone to know it.

“Now, there’s no telling how many people work in the film industry, but the truth is, it’s becoming a larger industry nowadays, due to new and better technologies, globalization, and so many people interested in being media producers, distributors, or at least consumers. Filmmaking is sexy and spreading, no doubt about it, and it’s a big tent where all kinds of people can contribute.

“Film festivals are also helping, whether it’s the VFF or even several festivals around the world specifically devoted to films by or about deaf people. In the U.S., for example, there are the Maine Deaf Film Festival and the Deaf Rochester Film Festival.

“Still, deaf people are underrepresented in film, and yet they are also motivated. Working in film presents a lot of extra challenges, but the deaf often work (or at least aspire to work) in film for many reasons. Here are a few:

Film is a form of visual communication. For minds that are intimately trained to think visually, it’s only natural for deaf people to be drawn to forms of visual expression such as filmmaking. Not just interested, but really good at it—sort of like what they say about blind people having strong senses of smell, hearing, and touch; deaf people have the potential to use film and other visual media in more powerful, expressive ways than the average Joe.

Art springs from suffering. Well, that’s not always the case, but it happens often. Deaf people are doubly challenged, first by their condition and then by a society that is often clueless about how to respect or understand them. Even hearing parents of deaf children, who should know better, can be very insensitive. Deaf people have plenty of hard life experiences and frustrations that can help them to be powerful communicators.

Being unable to find work. Getting and keeping a job so often requires things like talking on the phone that it’s easy for deaf people to be intimidated and not even try to find “regular” work. They often end up working as American Sign Language teachers, teachers for the deaf, or in related government jobs, even though they would prefer more options and can bring a lot to the table. Deaf people also are often self-employed, creating their own businesses, or freelancing. In film, which is full of freelancers, many deaf people are filmmakers, actors, etc.

“Many deaf people are really motivated to work in film, and society benefits from their contributions. It’s important for all of us that deaf people—like women, like ethnic minorities, like gays and lesbians, like everyone—be able to portray themselves more accurately and honestly than what we usually see in the mainstream media.

“We’ve got to get away from the marginalization and stereotyping that, even today, we find in mainstream depictions of deaf people. For instance, deaf people being portrayed as victims in need of help, or as perfect lipreaders or completely mute. In fact, these are often not the case for individual people. There’s so much more diversity among deaf people than you would think.

“Deaf people already have done some great work, and not just Marlee Matlin. In the acting world of deaf talents there are Phyllis Frelich, Linda Bove, Deanne Bray, Shoshannah Stern, and Amber Zion, to name a few women. Among the men are Bernard Bragg, Troy Kotsur, Tyrone Giordano, Russell Harvard, Anthony Natale, and CJ Jones. Deaf filmmakers, aside from myself, include Wayne Betts, Jr., Mark Wood, Jade Bryan, Kamau Buchanan, Adrean Mangiardi. Each has such a unique and amazing voice to express on film.

“We have so many wonderful deaf women in the film industry eager to move forward in their careers. There are truly many talented actresses, filmmakers, cinematographers, editors, screenwriters, choreographers, makeup artists, wardrobe stylists, and the list keeps getting longer. Deaf Women in Film is expanding, and the website has links to most of these deaf women who have joined up.

Photo by Erik Call
Edited by James Latham


Jules Dameron said...

Hey guys! I wanted to add some more information about Deaf Women in Film here.

1) DWIF is an international community organization.

2) There are many other Deaf Film Festivals internationally, such as Toronto Deaf Film & Arts Festival (Toronto), Deaffest (Wolverhampton, U.K.), and Deaffilmfestival in Stockholm, Sweden.

3) There are many other deaf filmmakers & performers all over the world, such as Braam Jordaan, Catherine MacKinnon, Chantal Deguire, Nadia Nadarajah, Caroline O'Neill, William Mager, Charlie Swinbourne, Samuel Dore, Louis Neethling, and the list goes on forever. Unfortunately, it's hard to list them all!

In any case, I hope you consider this information useful and please feel free to contact us anytime if you're interested in spreading your focus on this subject.


Jules Dameron
Deaf Women in Film Founder

The Valley Film Festival said...

I wish we had a "like" button for your comments. Thanks for being part of the VFF community and sharing your knowledge!