Six Not-So-Great Messages Found in A Quiet Place

**SPOILER ALERT: The following contains some plot details about A Quiet Place.**

To start, let me say I am thrilled that A Quiet Place features the endearing young Deaf actress, Millicent Simmonds, in one of the lead roles. Too many Hollywood productions fail to cast Deaf actors for Deaf roles, so it is refreshing that producer and lead actor John Krasinski insisted on casting a Deaf actress in this movie. It is also wonderful to see ASL on the big screen. Even though I wasn’t able to watch an open-captioned showing of A Quiet Place, it is an easy movie to follow without much reliance on captioning devices.

If I didn’t want to think too deeply, I would agree with all of the positive reviews and comments about how novel and thrilling the movie is. It could be a blast to go and watch simply for the sake of getting scared. On a surface level, it is a fun horror movie.

I can’t in good conscience say nothing, however, about what I find problematic and exasperating about this movie.

Here are the six not-so-great messages found in A Quiet Place:

1. ASL is a last resort.

In the movie, ASL is portrayed as a last resort means of communication in a worst case scenario. ASL is not used by choice. It is a feature of the movie’s dystopian setting, the only option for survival in a very negative situation where people will get killed by terrifying creatures if they make noises. Luckily, the Abbott family already signs because their daughter is Deaf. In the framework of a dangerous and frightening world, ASL becomes a benefit to them.

Unfortunately, signing in a bad situation parallels the real life scenario that is all too common: ASL being presented as a communication option for Deaf babies and children only as a last resort. Medical professionals and so-called education experts usually discourage the use of ASL among Deaf babies and children. This is done out of the incorrect assumption that spoken language development will be impaired if ASL is used. Only when all other options fail, do many Deaf babies and children receive exposure to ASL. When they finally are allowed to sign, the effects of language deprivation have already made their mark.

The movie misses an opportunity to show ASL in a more positive light, as a chosen language with many benefits.

2. ASL is only good for basic communication.

The movie does not show ASL as a full language that is useful beyond crises. Most of the signing is limited to basic communication. Characters turn to speaking when their conversations become deeper. For instance, the father would sign “no”, “stay” or “be quiet” to his son, but they would speak to each other when  discussing whether the father has told his daughter he loves her. Even if this difference in language usage may have been unintentional, it subtly links ASL with primitive needs and voice with more abstract conversations. In the movie, the siblings play a board game in silence, suggesting that ASL does not allow for the interesting conversations people typically have while playing games. In reality, Deaf people carry on full and animated conversations in ASL.

3. It is awfully scary to be Deaf, to use ASL, and to live in a silent world.

Most hearing people are understandably afraid of not being able to hear or use their voices and of having to use other communication methods instead. A Quiet Place becomes a successful horror movie by taking advantage of this fear, incorporating it with other scary elements to ramp up the fright factor. This perpetuates hearing people’s fear of being Deaf and using ASL when neither is as scary in reality.

4. Deaf people are vulnerable, dependent and dumb.

The Deaf character in this movie is a young girl who, due to being Deaf, is particularly susceptible to being eaten alive by the terrifying creatures who lurk in the shadows, ready to pounce on anyone who makes a noise. In one scary scene, the camera follows her as she walks through a field, unaware that a creature is stalking her. She has to rely on her hearing family members to alert her to the creatures’ presence.  She is also the one who indirectly “caused” her younger brother’s death because she gave him the rocket toy that made noise and attracted one of the creatures who ate him. Even though she did not give him the batteries, had she not given him the toy in the first place, he would still be alive. Her brother might have contributed to his own death, but in the end she is still at fault.

The movie chose to focus on the Deaf girl’s missing sense completely and blow any perceived dangers out of proportion, while leaving out the unique benefits associated with being Deaf. Research shows that Deaf people have quicker reaction times to moving stimuli in the periphery and are more accurate when it comes to discriminating differences in angle of motion and direction than hearing people. These vision-related advantages could easily have translated into useful contributions made by the Deaf girl in helping her family outwit the creatures. Instead of making the whole movie about how the Deaf girl struggles to fit into a hearing-centric world, it would have been more enlightening to show the positive aspects of being Deaf.

The only time the Deaf girl actually makes a significant contribution is when she uses her squealing cochlear implant to outdo the creatures. In a bizarre twist, the cochlear implant functions as a miracle, even though it is defective. What a message: cochlear implants are great, whether they are broken or not. If the movie manages to pull off such an unrealistic presumption, it sure can do something similar to present the Deaf girl as a strong character who is more than capable of contributing to her family’s survival.

5. Deaf people need to be fixed.

Fixing the Deaf girl’s hearing with a cochlear implant is a huge theme throughout the movie. The father works in secret to repair broken implants for his daughter. These cochlear implants become a symbol of hope. Near the end of the story, the daughter finds her father’s workspace full of cochlear implant devices and tools, which illustrates how much he loved her. Of course, seeing the father’s love for his daughter is touching, but it comes at the expense of emphasizing the need to “cure” Deaf people.

It is important to acknowledge the fact that the Deaf girl’s parents sign also reflects their love for her through ensuring she acquires full language access. This, however, is not a point that is highlighted or used to evoke warm feelings from viewers like the cochlear implants succeed in doing. It is especially ironic, as language acquisition is a guarantee with ASL, and not so with cochlear implants.

6. Cochlear implants are instant lifesavers.

The movie implies cochlear implants save lives, whether through making Deaf people hear or acting as heroic destroyers of the creatures that are terrorizing the world. This romanticizes the idea of cochlear implants, framing them as quick, miraculous solutions to the perceived problem of being Deaf and the actual (in the movie) problem of fending off deadly creatures.

The reality is the opposite. Cochlear implants do not function as artificial ears that provide perfect hearing ability. They do not work like glasses do for most people who wear them. Deaf people who receive cochlear implants must endure long hours of auditory-verbal therapy and practice constantly before a minimal percentage finally benefit from them.

It is hard not to wonder why cochlear implants are portrayed in such a super-heroic way in this movie. The cochlear implant industry earns a great deal of money by exploiting hearing people’s, especially parents’, fears and ignorance about Deaf people. While the implants may work for some people, they most definitely do not work for many others. This movie, however, frames them otherwise.

The irony is that ASL is actually a valuable tool for early language acquisition, acting as a lifesaver for many Deaf individuals.

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Now that you know these not-so-great messages in A Quiet Place, you may not think they are major issues. However, they do shape what hearing people think of Deaf people. Some viewers may go on to have Deaf babies in the future. When they find out their baby is Deaf, their negative reactions, thoughts, and feelings may be subconsciously influenced by this movie. Having a Deaf baby does not have to be as terrifying, but unfortunately movies like A Quiet Place perpetuate this nightmare. Remembering this movie and its misleading messages, parents may react out of fear and do everything to make their child not Deaf, such as opting for cochlear implants and no ASL. This is never the best option for their Deaf child though, since every Deaf baby should be provided full access to ASL, a visual language that comes naturally to Deaf people.

Yes, we can be happy that A Quiet Place cast a Deaf talent and made ASL visible on the big screen. At the same time, we need to consider the other messages, both subtle and loud, that the movie sends about Deaf people.

Addendum: Many people who reacted to this post mentioned how ironic it is that while the movie captioned all conversations in ASL for non-signers, it did not caption any conversations in spoken English for Deaf individuals. I thought this is another point worth considering and bringing up in this post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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10 Things the Raving Reviews Don’t Tell You About Spring Awakening

Disclaimer: The following post reflects my perspective on the hearing-centered aspects of Spring Awakening. It is not a criticism of the Deaf actors. I actually enjoyed watching the fabulously talented Deaf actors in this play. I wish the whole cast was Deaf and fluent in ASL. Or at least that the play is equally accessible for Deaf people.

10 THINGS THE RAVING REVIEWS DON’T TELL YOU ABOUT SPRING AWAKENING

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1. It’s a show for hearing people, not Deaf people.

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Broadway is buzzing about this show being fully accessible to both Deaf and hearing theatergoers. If you are Deaf and haven’t read the script or Wikipedia synopsis, however, there is a good chance you will look something like this while watching the show.

2. The hearing actors use sim-com.

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Sim-com (short for simultaneous communication) means signing and speaking at the same time. It is an unfair burden on the hearing actors to make them do sim-com. It sets them up for failure. ASL and English are two completely different languages with their own grammatical rules, syntax, and structure. It is not possible to talk in two languages at the same time. Nine times out of ten, when sim-com happens, the English is perfectly spoken or sung, but the ASL is broken and unintelligible.

3. For Deaf people, watching sim-com is an eyesore.

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Sim-com is like the hearing version of someone scraping the chalkboard with fingernails. It is like the mute button being turned on and off repeatedly.

4. Plot, themes, symbolism lost in translation.

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After reading the synopsis and reviews, I was excited to see the show based on the rich plot and the parallels between Deaf education and sex education in the Victorian Age. Sadly, the wonderful depth was gone, all because of sim-com.

5. Invented signs, just NO.

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Why reinvent the wheel when ASL already has a sign for a word? In one scene, the actors are singing “My Junk”, using an initialized sign for “junk” that does not exist in ASL. In this song, the actors are singing “we’ve all got our junk and my junk is you”, where “junk” refers to an obsession or addiction. It is not clear why “junk” could not be translated into one of the ASL signs for obsession or addiction or something similar. I know of Deaf viewers who thought the actors were signing someone’s name sign during this song. Some people might excuse the “new” sign as part of theatrical signing, but no. If some people don’t understand what you are saying, it doesn’t work.

6. Deaf viewers miss out big-time.

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There is obviously a communication breakdown when hearing viewers are laughing during one scene and Deaf viewers are clueless about what is so funny. Are we watching the same show? Again, using sim-com means Deaf viewers get the short end of the stick, or miss the boat entirely.

7. Schedule study time in advance if you are Deaf and want to follow the story.

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Yes, I said it above and I’ll say it again, you do need to read the script (click here) or Wikipedia synopsis (click here) before you go. If you have no time to read before, bring your reading materials and a mini flashlight to the actual show. Reading glasses if you need them. Do your best to read along while keeping up with the sim-com onstage, or speed-read everything during intermission. Pray that your brain can handle the sensory overload. Or bring along your hearing family members or friends who sign and put them to work. Good luck!

8. Deaf people are sending mixed messages about sim-com.

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Deaf people are always arguing against the use of sim-com in educational settings, but then we turn around say it is beautiful onstage. Sim-com is not even a language. It is an ineffective means of communication. We confuse hearing people with our mixed messages about sim-com. Let’s make up our minds and be consistent by saying no to sim-com everywhere.

9. It is all about the $$$.

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Understandably, the Broadway producer of this show needs to earn money. That is fine, but how fine is it when the show is marketed as fully accessible to Deaf people, who eagerly line up to pay full price for tickets to this show and end up only getting half access? The theater doesn’t even reserve seats for Deaf viewers to make sure we can see everything. It is my understanding that only two shows during the whole run offer captions. That means if you are Deaf and don’t sign, or if you are Deaf and want access to English because you don’t understand the sim-com, there are only two times when you can see the show.

10. Last, but not least…

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Of course, I want to see Deaf people succeed on Broadway and everywhere, because they can and should. I wonder if the majority of Deaf people who gave high-fives to Spring Awakening thought they would hurt the Deaf community by speaking up about the show’s shortcomings or if they were actually satisfied with half access, which we are so used to getting. Some might have worried about being labeled as “angry” or “bitter” Deaf people for being honest with their criticism.

The first reviews to come out by Deaf people on social media were overwhelmingly positive. This set the tone. The more raving reviews that showed up online, the more people applauded. It was almost like peer pressure to say only good things and leave anything else unsaid. In the review that came closest to Deaf people speaking the truth, five Deaf viewers were given free tickets in exchange for their input (click here for the review). They raised the sim-com issue and admitted it was difficult to follow the story. These reviewers no doubt were less influenced by loss aversion, a psychological/economic term that refers to people’s tendency to want to avoid loss at any cost. People who paid a lot of money to see the show, especially those who flew to NYC, stayed in hotels, and ate out in restaurants (easily costing $1000 or more) would have every reason not to want to feel like they wasted money. It makes sense they would give glowing reviews to justify their spending.

The Deaf community’s reaction to Spring Awakening is like an elephant in the room – or The Emperor’s New Clothes (click here) tale.

Video Letter to MDAD: Jr. NAD Conference 2011

My experience of Jr. NAD Conference 2011 (:

Transcript:

Hi, my name is Jehanne McCullough and I am a sophomore in Maryland School for the Deaf (MSD). I am also the vice-president for MSD’s Jr. NAD chapter. Last November, along with two other students that are the president and secretary, we went to Jr. NAD conference at California School for the Deaf, Riverside. Thanks to Maryland Association of the Deaf (MDAD) who sponsored us for this trip with $500, we gained a lot of experience from the conference. There were many workshops and speeches that we saw, and they talked about different things. I learned a lot from those workshops. Among the people who led the workshops, two were from Maryland! That’s nice.  One of workshops talked about how to be an assertive leader instead of using passive or aggressive methods. Another talked about the power of media, and that workshop led us to set up MSD Jr. NAD’s Facebook page after we learned about how powerful media can be! Even Miss NAD Deaf America, Rachel Mazique, gave us a workshop. There was a pageant night, MSD did not participate as it was last minute for us, but we still had fun and learned a lot during the pageant. Some who were in the pageant discussed many things like Deaf issues, bullying, and more. I met a lot of people, and it’s great networking opportunity for me. There are different group projects like Round Table where they discussed the proposals for Jr. NAD General Assembly later. Another is Empty Bowl group where they painted the bowls to be auctioned and the proceeds would be donated to charity. I am in George Veditz Video group where we made a Public Service Announcement (PSA) during the weekend about empowering to youth. We went to all workshops and on the last day, there was General Assembly where all of proposals the Round Table agreed on were being brought up. Delegates voted on those proposals. My school has two delegates who are the president of Jr. NAD and me, the vice-president and one observer. We the delegates at the conference reviewed all of proposals in General Assembly and voted for or against on different proposals. We supported the proposal to have two Jr. NAD representatives going to NAD conference this summer, and the proposal got passed. On last night, I met many people and would never ever forget this conference. This conference really helped me to be a better leader, and when I came back home in Maryland, I became more active and better leader around my community. The conference was really worth it! Again, I want to thank MDAD for sponsoring me to go to the conference and to make it possible!