Sign Language in Cinema.

I recently watched a film called “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes”. In the film the apes’ primary form of communication was American Sign Language and as a deaf person it was appealing to see sign language being represented, especially in Cinema. Yet someone who happens to be hearing made it known to me they felt it was rather insulting – their argument was that the apes in the film were less developed than the humans and to see them representing sign language was, degrading. Had it stayed true to their own form of gesturing naturally, it would be a different matter. I realised where this person was coming from so was I appreciating the fact that sign language was being used in the film, a result of desperation more than anything – a case of anything will do? As sign language very rarely feature in cinema or TV as a form of communication in its own merit.

Blue Eyes signing to his father, Caesar, that Koba killed Ash.

Blue Eyes signing to his father, Caesar, that Koba killed Ash.

There are films where sign language features heavily but that is only when the subject matter concerns deafness. Will it ever be possible for a deaf actor to be the lead character in mainstream cinema? It might be farfetched but it is definitely something that deaf people deserve to look forward to once in a while in terms of inclusion. Blockbusters in general are about generating as much profit as possible and having a lead character with a disability however hidden or obvious it may be, seems to be too much of a risk for the producers to take. But if the storyline was exceptional and the film was brilliantly made, I would not predict any issues in regards to the number of the potential audience turning up to watch.

Can you think of a film that uses sign language as an alternative form of language by the actors regardless of whether they may be hearing or deaf and the subject matter does not concern deafness?

Of all the films to date that have used a deaf actor or sign language in it, which film do you think has done the most justice?

Sign language is one of the most expressive languages but when is it wrong for someone to use/represent it?

I found the initial debate rather interesting and wanted to explore those questions further, I certainly feel that a lot needs to be done for sign language to be accepted in mainstream culture. You too can contribute with your thoughts and suggestions in order to help our debate come to a conclusion of sorts – Carpe diem!

~ SJ (Sara Jae)

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One thought on “Sign Language in Cinema.

  1. I think I understand where this person is coming from, but I don’t see it as degrading. Maybe my opinion doesn’t matter as much as I am hearing and sign language is a second language for me, but I think it makes sense that ASL be used by the apes. Maybe ape vocal apparatuses are able to make a wide enough range of sounds to produce viable language? And it’s cool to see ASL there, isn’t it?

    But you’re right, it would be good to see a Deaf character in a movie as its main character. But the risk certainly is an issue… Most likely they would choose an oral Deaf (such as Daphne from Switched at Birth)… This certainly is something that could be discussed more.

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