Black Deaf Women Are Invisible on Netflix’s Deaf U, and That's Just Part of the Problem10/16/2020
Netflix’s latest unscripted series, Deaf U, spotlights young students at Gallaudet University in Washington D.C., a college predominately for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. While the Deaf audience may have been looking forward to seeing a glimpse of themselves represented on the screen, this series serves mainly as a voyeuristic and salacious gaze for the hearing audience into Deaf lives.
At one point, two of the main stars, Rodney Burford and Daequan Taylor, casually discussed how Daequan got fellow student Alexa Paulay-Simmons pregnant against her consent. Meanwhile, Daequan is clearly uncomfortable revisiting the topic with Alexa, the woman he physically and emotionally violated. Rodney and Daequan are both Black, while Alexa is white. Black men are often misrepresented in the media, and the fetishization of Black men as sexually aggressive and unsympathetic towards females is not a positive representation. I can almost guarantee that Black Deaf men would find it unsettling that the only two men from their community were portrayed in this way.
The storylines on Deaf U have no direction or resolution. We really only see the students talking about relationships and sex, partying, and how they sign. We don’t hear about their classes, and discussions of family dynamics are often overshadowed by the focus on their sex lives or their existence in relation to other Deaf students. As a filmmaker, I have noticed many hearing producers with limited views on Deaf culture have this mindset of framing Deaf people on how well they hear or talk. What is this obsession with sound and sign language? We want to see the human side of who they are as people without subjecting them as inspiration porn for their disability or hearing loss.
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