A show about a group of Deaf college students would be a hit with the Deaf community, right? You’d think. Many Deaf people spent the weekend binge-watching Netflix’s latest docuseries, Deaf U. Deaf and hard-of-hearing people took to social media to express their disappointment – or outright disdain – for the show. Why are fans so upset?
Deaf People Slam Deaf U as Shallow
Many in the Deaf community hoped Deaf U would bring awareness to what it’s like being deaf in a hearing world. Instead, the show focused on the college culture of drinking and hooking up. One Twitter user wondered if the students even went to class at all.
If I could change one thing about #DeafU it would be to include more Black women. If I could change a second thing, it would be to show at least two minutes in an actual classroom – don't the main characters ever attend class? Or is it just sex, socializing, and sports?— Meredith Peruzzi (@etoile) October 9, 2020
The show did feature several social issues, such as bullying, abortion and child abuse. In fact, one of the students quits Gallaudet because of bullying from so-called “Deaf elites.” You can read more about what it means to be a “Deaf elite” here.
The small group of friends played musical romantic partners throughout the series. One student, Alexa, seemed to ping-pong between the guys in the group. At one point, she reveals she had an abortion and accuses her lover, Daequan, of getting her pregnant on purpose.
Lack of Representation is Another Issue
Despite having two Black males in Deaf U, many people called Netflix out for lack of diversity. There are many tweets asking where the Black women were in the series. Twitter user @_holliemyles expressed disappointment in the lack of representation.
I was so excited for #DeafU but I’m so disappointed. Where are the black deaf women? And seeing how judgy the ‘elites’ are just reinforces how I don’t feel like I’m deaf enough— Hollie (@_holliemyles) October 9, 2020
The tweet also mentions the ‘Deaf elite,’ and not being “deaf enough.” That is something that played a major role throughout the series. The Deaf community can be difficult for the hard-of-hearing or late-deafened. Late-deafened are people born hearing but lost some or all of their hearing later in life.
Many late-deafened people do not use ASL (American Sign Language.) Rather, they rely on lip-reading and using their voice. That can upset many in the Deaf community, who feel protective of their language.
The purpose of #DeafU isn't healthy representation of the Deaf community. It's to reinforce popular expectations of what "actual Deaf people" are like and to satisfy a trend of fascination with sign language among hearing people.— Deaf Men Tell Good Tales (@hayxsmith) October 10, 2020
Fun fact: ASL is not universal. Every country has its own version. British Sign Language (BSL,) French Sign Language (FSL,) and Australian Sign Language (Auslan,) for example.
Extra fun fact: ASL is its own language, with different syntax and grammar than spoken/written English. That’s why ASL interpreters are a necessity, even if closed-captions are available. ASL and English are two different languages.
Nyle DiMarco Defends Deaf U
Dancing With The Stars & America’s Next Top Model champ Nyle DiMarco was active in getting Deaf U made for Netflix. He serves as the show’s executive producer. In an interview with NPR, the model’s hope for Deaf U was to “reframe the world’s understanding of what it means to be deaf.”
However, one Twitter user called Nyle out directly for the way the Deaf students were portrayed. They especially took issue with the show “made it seem like all Gallaudet students do is party, drink [and hook-up.]”
@NyleDiMarco #DEAFU what the fuck was that my dude! You didn't show the deaf world in way were it could educate the hearing world. You made it seem like all Gallaudet students do is party, drink, have sex & harshly criticize those who are new to the language. Why did @netflix— Poetress J.🌈 (@PoetressJustice) October 10, 2020
Many fans expressed similar thoughts about Deaf U.
To promote the show, Netflix used a clip of the Deaf students explaining Donald Trump’s ‘sign name.’ Many people felt the clip was insulting Trump, or gave the impression that the show was political. Neither of those things are true.
As the students explain, a ‘sign name’ is a shorthand way to address someone. Additionally, having the Deaf community assign you a ‘sign name’ is considered an honor. Some fans felt Netflix did a disservice to the show by heavily promoting that one-minute clip out of a six-episode series.
Did you watch Deaf U? Head over to our Facebook page and leave a comment with your thoughts.
Netflix has yet to announce if Deaf U will get another season.
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