Deaf People and the Movies
In the deaf community, we always try to support the amazing accomplishments of deaf people from every walk of life. Deaf culture is nurturing and empowering, and we often build very strong bonds with one another. That’s why it’s so surprising that so many deaf people are unaware of the role of deafness in the world of movies. Yes, there are many deaf performers -- and not only that, but there actually have been deaf actresses since virtually the beginning of the film era. Let’s take a closer look at how women on the silver screen have made an impact!
The Silent Film Era: The First Deaf Education in Popular Culture
Deaf culture was truly enamored of silent films when they first came onto the scene at the beginning of the 1900s. The silent movie era was very brief, but deaf and hearing people alike flocked to the films in droves. John S. Schuchmann, a professor of history who is also the son of parents impacted by profound deafness, has explored how deeply invested in silent films the deaf community was during their brief reign. Silent films fell out of fashion within thirty years thanks to new sound technology, but academics are only beginning to uncover whether and how deaf actresses took part in productions.
Marlee Matlin: An Inspiration to Deaf Culture
Marlee Matlin, who has been deaf since the age of eighteen months, is the actress who has made perhaps the biggest splash in both the hearing and deaf community. She has been a living deaf education on the possibilities that await people who follow their dreams: she achieved an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her part in “Children of a Lesser God” in 1986, when she was twenty three -- making her the youngest actress to achieve that prestigious award. She remains active as an actress and has also written a book about living with deafness and achieving her dreams.
Today: Deaf Education in Acting is Not Far Away
The young actress Andrea Ferrell, known for her roles in Jerry Maguire and 7th Heaven, is one of the new generation of actresses showing that deaf performers of either gender can also portray hearing characters. Others include Deanne Bray, Phyllis Frelich -- who also won an Oscar -- and many others. These ladies have served to lead the way by expanding the boundaries of what deaf actresses can do. Plus, they have proven that they can be at the very top of the acting craft, winning some of the highest awards in the world of film. That is a long way from where we were in 1900!
There are more and more deaf actresses, actors, and performers of all kinds now than ever before. Plus, there are even more opportunities for non-hearing performers than ever before thanks to the proliferation of independent film studios and the internet. It is only a matter of time before Hollywood and smaller venues alike provide a greater diversity of non-hearing and hearing stars. That’s good news for the deaf community, who will get to see themselves represented on screen more than at any time since the heyday of film.
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