Teresa Garratty: What exactly is a deaf audience?

Posted on August 8, 2017

I recently wrote about my experience of attending Clin d’Oeil in Reims, which I’m sure you all read because everyone reads all of my articles, all the time…right…RIGHT?!

Anyway, while I was there the film I made in 2015 was being screened and was also up for two nominations.

No, don’t get excited.

I’m pretty sure it bombed…hard.

Towards the end of the festival, someone was chatting to me about the film and asked if there’s anything I would have done differently to make it more appealing to “a deaf audience”.

And that got me thinking….

Obviously, it refers to deaf viewers but what effect does being deaf have on our film preferences?

Let’s think about language/communication. What is the “right” choice for a deaf audience? Fluent sign language? But then what about deaf people who speak, or weren’t taught to sign? Are they not part of the deaf audience? Should all characters in the film sign? Is that an accurate portrayal for all members of a deaf audience?

I get it, we’d all like more representation, but just because a character doesn’t represent you as a deaf person, doesn’t mean it doesn’t represent someone else. Variation means that more people get to relate over time, it’s more inclusive.

Are the only films that appeal to a “deaf audience” ones with deaf themes and deaf characters? If so, then that would imply that a deaf audience enjoys little, if any mainstream film content. Is it fair to limit a deaf audience to the same issues, genres and political agendas over and over again? Or do a deaf audience have more of an eclectic taste?

All films have a message. Whether they like it or not, they’re saying something to whoever is watching. So, if we say we’ll target our deaf audience with fluent sign language and strong deaf themes, then we’re getting a message about deaf people across to…well, more deaf people.

Sometimes, that does work. Perhaps the film is aiming to be inspirational or uplifting, but why should that be limited to only a deaf audience? Why not try to share that positive message about deaf people to as many people as possible, instead of just preaching to the choir?

On a final note, films are a universal language in themselves. They are stories to be told to anyone willing to watch. Sure, we all have our personal preferences as to what we like (horror, romcom etc.) and marketing wise, it’s good to target an audience of some kind.

For instance, Disney films are primarily aimed at children but they still find a way to draw in audiences of all ages. Isn’t that great? They’re getting their work, their ideas and their messages out to a huge range of viewers. I personally, think that’s much better than boxing everyone off and trying to please the few.

Then again, we didn’t win those nominations…so maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about. Ah well, it’s just food for thought. Don’t forget to chew!

Read more of Teresa’s posts (with cartoons!) by clicking here.

Teresa is a freelance film maker, photographer and full time cynic. At school, she was voted “Most likely to end up in a lunatic asylum”, a fate which has thus far been avoided. Her pet hates are telephones, intercoms and all living things. Follow her on Twitter as @TGarratty

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