Rebecca-Anne Withey: What I thought of the Netflix movie ‘Hush,’ with a Deaf character (but not a Deaf actress)

Posted on May 16, 2016

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I’m not one for scary movies. Honestly I’m not. I freaked out after watching Paranormal Activity and was haunted by The Others for days after I’d watched it. I can’t watch gory series’ like The Walking Dead or American Horror. I’m just too easily spooked.

So when I found out Netflix had released a movie – albeit a ‘thriller’ – featuring a main character who was deaf, I was in a dilemma.

Do I leave it to others to tell me about it? Or do I grab my man, hide behind him and attempt to watch whilst silencing my squeals with a pillow to prevent waking up our children…?

I opted – bravely – for the latter.

Seeing as the movie was centered around a killer who had targeted a deaf lady for fun, this is in no way a film review. I find mindless violence disturbing and would never choose a film of this genre to watch, let alone rate.

But I was interested in seeing how the actress portrayed deafness, especially as she was hearing. And as my Twitter feed was flooded with tweets regarding the unfairness of not casting a deaf actress, I wanted  to see what all the fuss was about and form my own opinion.

So…I watched it – all of it. Despite my other half disappearing halfway through because he deemed it ‘silly.’

And my verdict? It was okaaay. The actress did well to feature sign language, exaggerated facial expression and I particularly loved how she used her sense of touch to know when the killer was near…

But – the signing fluctuated from ASL to PSE (the more English based American Sign Language) and her lip pattern changed from being non-existent to overly accentuating. It wasn’t consistent. And therefore I didn’t believe her..

Other points that irked me included how she failed to notice her neighbour being murdered in her peripheral vision; couldn’t feel the vibrations from pounding on her glass kitchen window; and couldn’t sense a stranger entering her house leaving the door wide open and the cold wind blowing inside…!

And somehow she could lipread a stranger about 20 feet away. I spent a lot of viewing time just sighing in exasperation.

On the plus side, having a deaf character in a film is great publicity for the deaf community and raises the profile of sign language automatically. But as it rarely happens, I guess this is why we are fussy. We want it done right!

Deaf actors and actresses from the United States were left reeling when the director of Hush stated they had no intention of casting a deaf actress and the film was written by the lead actress – Kate Siegel – and her director husband.

A deaf actress spoke to me about hearing actors in the States abusing the privilege of being able to work on any movie without barriers and how mainstream opportunities for deaf actors worldwide are dwindling.

It’s therefore been another blow for this community to discover that yet another movie, this time a Hollywood blockbuster called Wonderstruck, stars a hearing actress in a deaf role.

Judging from tweets from directors and actors on both movies mentioned, it appears the hearing acting world are not aware of just how repressed deaf actors are.

They do not understand that as a deaf actor auditions are limited and dependent on the communication skills required. Even the best lipreader with the clearest speech may not be able to convincingly seem “hearing.”

And this is why despite learning sign language and playing on the usual deaf cliches, a hearing actor cannot always seem “deaf” – no matter how well trained they are.

So, all of you directors out there, if you want authenticity and real deaf quirkiness and mannerisms in your movies – choose a deaf actor. Or at least give them the chance to audition…

And as for Hush. Hmm, I think I’ll sleep easy 😉

Rebecca-Anne Withey is an actress, sign singer and tutor of performing arts. A black country girl at heart, she now resides in Derby where she works in both performance art and holistic therapies. She writes on varied topics close to her heart in the hope that they may serve to inspire others.

The Limping Chicken is the UK’s deaf blogs and news website, and is the world’s most popular deaf blog. It is edited by Deaf journalist and filmmaker Charlie Swinbourne.

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