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Deaf Jam!

laurentanel's picture

While watching Deaf Jam, Kristen mentioned to think about how the film itself worked to engage viewers of both the deaf and hearing communities. I found this prompt particularly interesting because of my short history with filmmaking in high school. I loved watching the film and looking out for ways in which accessibility was characterized in the screenplay. For example, in the scene where Aneta walks with her brother by the park where a group is gathering to play drums, they both tell each other that they can feel the beat of the drums but wish that they could hear the accompanying voices. During this exchange, the audio softens and an underlying bass is left so that the hearing audience can feel the drums but barely make out the voices of the musicians as they fade away. It was a really interesting experience with earbuds in because I felt that the filmmakers really wanted to share Aneta’s experience in that moment. Another piece of the film that I thought was really smart and well done was how conversations at Lexington were held. These conversations were not overlayed with music or narration. Instead, the ambient noise of the room filled the scene. The quietness was disrupted by intermittent clapping of hands while signing or those who use their voices while communicating. Picking up on those few noises within a quite scene was very interesting, especially because there was so much communication going on. Usually when I think of a loud conversation with lots of voices I imagine audible noise, but these moments were so visually loud that it overwhelmed me just like being in a room full of noisy people. Finally, a more visual aspect of accessibility that I found to be very intriguing was the use of written narration during Aneta’s slam performance. The editors were able to take her words and play with them on screen to mimic the way she was visually expressing her story. This made her poem clearer to those who are not fluent in ASL without losing her artistic expression. Overall, I really enjoyed watching this movie and fell in love with Aneta and her progress through the film. I wish that these practices of accessibility in filmmaking were not so new and shocking to me. It would be really interesting to see movies that are targeted at both deaf and hearing audiences make it into box office features. 


cds4's picture

HI LT! I was thinking about the exact same thing when I was watching Deaf Jam. You're so right, the filmmakers did such a wonderful job at making the viewing experience enjoyable for both hearing and deaf audiences. I thought it was particularly powerful when, during Aneta's first two slam poetry performances, the filmmakers didn't provide a written translation of her ASL signing and instead left the audience to focus on her movements. I didn't realize how much attention I was paying to the ASL translation at the bottom of the screen until it was gone and all I could do was observe the signing. Aneta's movements were absolutely beautiful. While watching her, I started to understand what her Lexington teacher had said about having to perform a story that is very personal to you. Aneta was so emotional and intense, I couldn't imagine how the story couldn't be personal to her. Just watching her sign, not knowing the intended meaning behind the signs, I could appreciate how poetry, and communication in general, is so much more then just words or signals. It is the performance of those words or signals that gives meaning. The best poets that they showed in the film, both hearing and deaf,  weren't the ones with the most profound message but rather the ones who desplayed the most emotion when they delivered their poetry. 

Another aspect of the film that I found entriguiing was the way Aneta listens to music. She described listening to the beat first and getting that down, then downloading the lyrics and reading them along side the beat over and over again until she could start to construct the song in her head. So few hearing people unpack music to that level, which means that deaf individuals like Aneta probably have a better understanding of the music even though the industry doesn't nessesarily make it accesible for them. It made me think of Sun Kim's TED talk where she discusses being more atune to sounds than hearing people. It's so ironic that we live in this world created for hearing individuals, and yet deaf individuals are more concious of it's construct and implications.