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Movies and the Deaf:

Jay Reynolds

            Imagine going to see a really popular movie, only to find it was in a language you did not understand. It would be really frustrating trying to figure out what was going on without understanding the dialog. This is what Deaf people have been dealing with since the late 1920's. Deaf people love movies as much as the next hearing person, but they, like hearing people, do not like not knowing what is going on in the movie. With hearing people, often the solution is to just turn up the volume; Deaf people either must rely on interpreters (an inconvenient and sometimes impossible proposition) or closed captioning. But why interpret from sound in the first place? That would be like watching nothing but foreign films your entire life! Deaf people have their own culture and their own way of communicating, so why not let Deaf people make their own movies with their own Deaf stars using sign language?

            A series of technological advances in the photography world led to the development of movies. Originally, these movies were short films that told a story. The first of such movies had no sound, and since all dialog was minimal and visually represented, early movies were fully accessible by hearing and Deaf people alike. But in 1927, the first "talkie" appeared on the screen, and from then on, the mainstream movie industry incorporated sound into all of its movies (Dominick, 2007, p. 204). This change meant Deaf people could no longer enjoy the shows made and viewed by their hearing counterparts.

            As hearing-friendly media proliferated, Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing people were left out of the picture. Deaf people wanted to enjoy the same entertainment hearing people did, so they founded their own TV services and cinematography companies, as well as producing a wealth of independent films. One of these new TV services was Sign City TV. According to its mission statement, this service is "devoted to bringing quality television to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community throughout America" ( All programming is presented in sign language, and they even go so far as to make it accessible to the hearing population by providing captions and full sound, too! Another company devoted to serving Deaf people's entertainment needs is Davideo Productions. This company has produced a number of movies in sign language, as well as playing host to independent film festivals such as "Cinema for Everyone" that feature independent Deaf films ( Two recent additions to the number of Deaf entertainment companies are DeafVision Filmworks and JADE films. There are some interesting similarities between these two movie production companies: they both promote awareness and produce films featuring Deaf and Hard of Hearing African-Americans and Latinos (! Both are also non-profit organizations that were founded in the 1990's (DeafVision Filmworks in 1991, and JADE Films in 1997).

            Deaf people love movies just as much as hearing people, but due to their differences in communication, they have a hard time enjoying each other's entertainment without some sort of intermediary. Fortunately, Deaf people are just as capable of producing movies as hearing people, and have proceeded to do so successfully. Sign City TV, DeafVision Filmworks, and JADE films all act as wonderful assets to the Deaf community and help the world to recognize Deaf people for who and what they are: people just like anyone else, who communicate in their own unique way.


 Davideo, 2005. Introduction to Davideo Productions. Davideo Productions. 25, Oct 2008: <>.

Sign City Television, 2005. Mission. Sign City Television. Retrieved 28, Oct 2008: <>.

Dominick, J (2007). The Dynamics of Mass Communication. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.

Graziano, Michael E. 6, Nov 2007. About DeafVision Filmworks, Inc. & JADE Films and Entertainment, LLC. MICA Runway. Retrieved 1, Nov 2008: <>



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