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Film screening sheds light on deaf culture

By Emily Botto

Section: Features, News

February 9, 2018

After the screen faded to black and the lights were raised, the organizers of the Brandeis American Sign Language (ASL) Club’s ’DEIS Impact event lined up three panelists in a neat row at the front of the room. Three interpreters were placed strategically, two facing the panelists and one facing the audience. They wore black, the color most lighter-skinned interpreters are asked to wear to contrast with their skin tone and ensure maximum visibility for their audience. The bangles circling the wrists of one the interpreters clanged as she signed, not quite in harmony with her movements.

The panelists had come to discuss the documentary film, “Sound and Fury,” which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2000. The film focuses on the controversial topic of cochlear implants in the deaf community by documenting the experience of two brothers, one deaf and one hearing, and their families. The Brandeis ASL Club hosted a screening of this documentary on Monday at 5 p.m. in The Heller School for Social Policy and Management.

A cochlear implant is a hearing device inserted into the inner ear, bypassing damaged areas and stimulating the auditory nerve directly. “Sound and Fury” puts emphasis on the controversy of implanting cochlear implants in children. It also highlights the pressure both hearing and deaf parents experience when deciding on whether the implant is right for their child.

After the interpreters and panelists had positioned themselves, Prof. James Morris (HSSP, BIOL, ENVS, ED), the moderator for the night, introduced the panelists. The panel consisted of Dr. Courtney Dunne, the director of the EDCO Program for Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Bruce Bucci, director of Boston University’s Deaf Studies department and Larry Stephen, who is part of the ASL faculty at Northern Essex Community College. Stephen is also a former member of the Brandeis faculty. The panelists spoke about their views on the documentary and their experiences in the deaf community.

The first question Morris asked the panelists was an obvious one: “How do you feel about cochlear implants?”
“My heart broke,” said Bucci through an interpreter, lamenting over the ubiquity of Morris’ question. “The system has already started to oppress the deaf community by asking that as the first question.” He said that the cochlear implant is nothing more than a tool that some people may choose to utilize. It is not as important of a problem to be considering compared to topics such as “identity and language and the system.’”

Stephen introduced himself as a person of color and an immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago. He told the story of his parents’ visit to Gallaudet University, a school in Washington, D.C. with a large deaf student population. When they witnessed many deaf students graduating with advanced degrees, they decided to move the family to the U.S., where Stephen and his hearing family discovered the American deaf community. Stephen said the connection to the deaf community, such as he had, and an awareness of deaf culture is what is most important for deaf or hearing parents in teaching their deaf children, regardless of the path they take.

Stephen’s parents, sitting in the second row, held up a phone to take pictures while he spoke.

Dunne agreed with Bucci and Stephen that the implant is a tool of sorts. Dunne said implants are most concerning when parents of deaf children think “the implant is a magic fix,” without knowing all the information necessary to make an educated decision about their child’s life.

The conversation fell into a definition of culture after Morris asked a second question: what the word “culture” means to people, hearing or deaf. Deaf culture, Bucci replied, is exactly like any other culture.

Those who are involved in the deaf community are merely those who value and want to be involved in deaf culture. The only people, Bucci said, who are not part of the deaf community, are those who do not show respect or appreciation for it or those who oppress deaf people.

There were also questions regarding the efficiency of cochlear implants, the language of ASL and the relationships within mixed families.

The ASL club hosts a ’DEIS Impact movie screening each year to raise awareness and inform students and interested parties about the deaf community.

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