Imagine Rihanna’s latest song drops and her new video is out on Youtube. Everyone’s talking about it. Everyone loves it, so you grab your iPhone/iPad/Android device and make a beeline for the video. It looks stunning, but the sound isn’t working. Pisses you off, right? You look down and see a bunch of comments, all yelling at VEVO to fix the sound because how can you possibly enjoy the music video if you can’t tell what they’re singing? Welcome to only a small part of what the Deaf community has to deal with every day.
I know what you’re thinking - and you’re wrong. The Deaf community loves music as much as anyone who can hear perfectly. There are as many degrees of deafness as many variations on how much a deaf person hears or experiences with music as there are deaf people in the world, and while they may enjoy music, the visual medium of music video has forgotten this large community of fans. Since the record labels and artists have failed to remedy this situation, award-winning film director Jules Dameron, a host of deaf actors (including Academy-Award winner Marlee Matlin, and TV heartthob Sean Berdy from the ABC Family hit Switched at Birth), and sometimes deaf musicians (like rapper Sean Forbes) have started making music videos using American Sign Language (ASL). Sometimes with a deaf crew, sometimes with a mix of hearing and deaf crew members, videos are stunningly beautiful, and fun to watch, with professional production values.
From Gotye’s “Someone That I Used to Know” to Idina Menzel’s “Let it Go” from Frozen to the official video for Tim Sweeney’s country song “Baby I Try For You,” and now Bruno Mars’ “The Lazy Song,” Dameron and her production teams interpret the songs into ASL (no, ASL is not English), bringing a whole new level of storytelling to the video experience. For The Lazy Song, Dameron - a big fan of Bruno Mars’ music wanted to make a tribute to his own music videos and teamed up with deaf actress Kailyn Aaron-Lozano who functioned as the shoot’s Director of ASL. They then set about getting the cast together and found all of them in cast rehearsals for another deaf production - this time on stage - of Spring Awakening by Deaf West, now playing at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills. The video was shot in one day on a shoestring budget, but the choreography and performances of the performers is joyous and skillful.
There are other non-professional deaf music videos out there by deaf teens and children of deaf adults (CODA’s) show just how much this community is being overlooked and how much they thirst for access to the same entertainment the hearing world gets to have. With the deaf community and artists putting themselves front and center with #deaftalent, they just may be a force to be reckoned with - and perhaps it’s time we really listen to what they have to say.