The Tribe

Winner of multiple 2014 Cannes Film Festival Awards (including the coveted Critics’ Week Grand Prix), Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s The Tribe is an undeniably original and intense feature debut set in the insular world of a Ukrainian high school for the deaf. The Tribe unfolds through the non-verbal acting and sign language from a cast of deaf, non-professional actors — with no need for subtitles or voice over — resulting in a unique, never-before-experienced cinematic event that engages the audience on a new sensory level.

A Father’s Love for His Daughter

Horribly maudlin Thai life insurance commercial about a daughter’s embarrassment over having a deaf father. The father is portrayed as goofy and oblivious, and his daughter’s classmate stereotype him a intellectually disabled as well.

The daughter tries to commit suicide when Dad uses sign language in front of a boy. (The horror!). Dad rushes her to the hospital and pleads with the doctors to take his life in exchange, although how they magically understood him with no translator in sight is left as an exercise to the reader.

Now class, compare and contrast the attitudes about deafness expressed in this commercial with Trust Your Power.

Meet The Artists of Lake Windfall

From D-Pan:
Meet The Artists
Feature length film “Lake Windfall” written by Roger Vass Jr. and Tony Nitko

A brand new feature length film “Lake Windfall” written by Roger Vass Jr. and Tony Nitko is making appearances around the country. We sat down with Roger, Tony and assistant director and editor Jason Roberts to talk about the film. Featuring ASL, audio & subtitles, “Lake Windfall” is a portrait of interactions between Deaf, hard-of-hearing and hearing friends in a post-apocalyptic setting. While navigating this tale of awareness and survival, both Deaf and hearing realize how critical communication is to our collective survival.

Regal outfits almost 6,000 theaters with Sony closed-captioning glasses

from endgadget: Regal outfits almost 6,000 theaters with Sony closed-captioning glasses
By Jon Fingas posted May 8th, 2013 at 12:36 PM

Sony’s subtitle glasses have been a long time coming. The US rollout began more than a year ago, but the gradual launch has left hard-of-hearing Americans with few modern closed captioning options at the movies. They’ll have a much easier time of it as of this month, as Regal will be providing the glasses to nearly 6,000 theaters before May is over. While the wide-scale deployment is coming later than the original first quarter target, it should be a welcome upgrade for viewers who’ve had to either deal with clunkier subtitle systems or stay at home. The Sony solution still won’t be ubiquitous, especially when it sells for $1,750 per pair, but there’s now a better chance that at least one captioning-friendly theater will be within reach.

Source: LA Times

More Coverage: Regal Entertainment Group

Interview with Alex Gibney, maker of Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence In The House Of God

from Documentaries:
Interview with Alex Gibney
HBO Sexual abuse in the clergy is not a new subject. What initially attracted you to it?

ALEX GIBNEY I had read a story in The New York Times about a particularly horrific abuse case involving some two hundred deaf boys who had been abused by a priest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. What made the story stand out for me were the documents that were revealed as part of the investigation which led straight to the Vatican – not only to the Vatican, but to Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict. That seemed to me a story that hadn’t been told yet. And to understand the story and see its connections all the way to the top-that really intrigued me.

The other thing that intrigued me were the heroes at the center of the story, the deaf men. The film is called Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God. Obviously the silence refers to the silence of the church in the face of these crimes. But it also refers to the silence of these deaf men, these people who somehow managed to have their voices heard, even though they couldn’t be understood by most hearing people. That seemed to me miraculous: amidst all of this darkness, there was a ray of light. Or better, in the midst of this ghastly clerical silence, there was a voice for justice.
HBO What kind of change have you seen in the church’s policies on sexual abuse since these scandals have erupted?

ALEX GIBNEY Judging from statements from the Vatican, it’s as if there has barely been a sex abuse crisis. They really haven’t reckoned with it. Even worse, they keep saying it’s over, and then more dimensions of the cover-up are revealed.  I mean, Pope Benedict has apologized, but in a way that seems so vague and indistinct and  didn’t at all reckon with the church’s role in covering up these crimes. On the other hand, if you look at the United States, the American  bishops have made substantive changes – out of necessity. Not only priests but bishops are being prosecuted – and not just for committing crimes, but for covering them up. Civil society has taken hold. The idea that the Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland can speak of the “rape and torture of children” at the hands of the Catholic Church – that’s powerful stuff. As a result, people are not going to church – not because they have lost their faith in God but because they’ve lost their faith in  the man-made institution of the church. All over the world people are getting so angry at the church’s intransigence that they’re demanding a change, and are voting with their feet. The Vatican hasn’t changed, but the church is changing around it.
HBO Where are the film subjects now? Has the film had a positive impact on their lives?

ALEX GIBNEY I think it has. I think it’s empowered them. Their mission now is to protect children. And so they’re speaking out, even if it means having to expose embarrassing details about their own past. They want to see justice done. That’s one of the things I wanted to celebrate was the heroic persistence of these deaf men in the face of so much silence from the church. And they really did make a difference.
HBO What do you hope audiences take away from the film?

ALEX GIBNEY I was raised Catholic. And I do hope that what Catholics take away from it is an understanding of the corruption of the hierarchy, which is very different than any kind of attack on the faith. I think what this film does is show what happens to institutions when they become so convinced of their own goodness that they imagine that they can do no wrong; because child abusers don’t just exist in the Catholic Church. What all these institutions seem to have in common is the concept that reputation of the institution outweighs even the damage that it does to small children. In the film we refer to a police phrase, “noble cause corruption,” which is the idea that crimes committed by members of an institution are unimaginable because the institution itself is so inherently good. Yet that unyielding sense of infallibility in the face of crimes is the very thing that’s corrupting the institution! It’s that mantle of respectability that we must always be cautious of. The church shouldn’t be able to cover up crimes in order to protect some phony notion of respectability. There are no black hats, there are no white hats. And bad apples are not what we should be looking for. What we should be looking for is to hold institutions to account. And that means that if the Catholic Church – or any other institution – wants a great reputation, they have to earn it, day after day.

Marlee Matlin Speaks Out: Help Deaf Parents Go to the Movies With Their Kids!

from famecrawler:
Marlee Matlin Speaks Out: Help Deaf Parents Go to the Movies With Their Kids!
Posted by shanaaborn on June 1st, 2012 at 2:28 pm
Marlee Matlin Speaks Out: Help Deaf Parents Go to the Movies With Their Kids!

Marlee Matlin is an advocate for issues affecting families who are deaf and hard-of-hearing.

This summer, most of us parents will be answering our kids’ cries of “We’re boooooorredd!” by checking the theater listings for screenings of the latest blockbuster films. It may be pricey to go to the movies these days, but it’s still a good way to beat the heat and keep the young ones entertained for a couple of hours.

But for Marlee Matlin, it’s not quite that simple. She, along with the 35 million other Americans who are deaf or hard of hearing, often have trouble finding a film they can enjoy along with their families.

As she writes today in the Chicago Sun-Times, theaters showing captioned versions of movies may be located miles from home. “Even more puzzling, the screening times don’t make sense: 11:00 AM, 10:45 PM,” she says. “Somehow, popcorn before lunchtime doesn’t taste as good, and 10:45 PM for this mom and four kids is out of the question.” (Her children are not hearing-impaired.)

What’s even more infuriating is that it doesn’t have to be this way. Sony and Regal Cinemas have developed special wi-fi glasses that show captions within the lenses when used at movies with digital formats. “But Sony is only making 500 pairs a month,” Marlee explains. “At that rate, I might be able to see Men in Black 24 when it comes out in 2019.”

As celebrity spokesperson for the National Association for the Deaf, Marlee frequently helps raise awareness of issues and inequities affecting people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The picture here, for instance, was taken this spring, when she traveled to Capitol Hill to promote the push to get phone companies to provide “text to 911? service, which would allow deaf users to send text messages to emergency services.

Maybe we can help spread the word and urge studios and theater chains to make captioned screenings and caption glasses more widely available to the millions of families who need them. “[N]ot only would it be the right thing to do,” Marlee says, “it would mean a lot of tickets and $5 popcorn they could be selling.”

Brava, Marlee!

Indore-based couple dub movies into sign language for deaf and dumb

Times of India:

Indore-based couple dub movies into sign language for deaf and dumb
Kundan Pandey, TNN | May 27, 2012, 01.54AM IST
INDORE: Bringing changes in the life of disabled and giving them a confidence to live them as any normal person is certainly not an easy thing. A city-based couple determined to take up a task for the deaf and dumb: dubbing Bollywood movies into sign language so that they can watch them without anybody’s help.

Gyanendra Purohit and Monika Purohit are out on a mission fighting for the dignity of the deaf and dumb and have resolved to add colour to their life through entertainment route, so as to make them feel that they are part of the society. The couple with the help of Indore police has dubbed a few Hindi blockbusters including Amitabh Bachchan and Dharmendra starrer Sholay, Sanjay Dutt’s Munna Bhai MBBS, Amir Khan’s Tare Zamin Par and Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. “And the latest in the queue is Three Idiots,” said Purohits.

Moved by Amir Khan’s latest TV programme on burning social issues, ‘Satyamev Jayate’, the Purohits have decided to dub the programme into sign language so that the deaf and dumb would benefit from it. They are ready to do it free-of-cost for the show and now waiting for the response, said Gyanendra. He said all these movies could be found at MP Deaf and Dumb Police Assistant Centre run by Indore police in collaboration with Anand Service Society. The society works for the welfare of deaf and dumb.

About the challenges coming on their way during the dubbing of a movie, he said that creative part is the biggest challenge as they have to prepare the movies for those who have not taken any formal class of sign language. “The Indore police help financially,” he said.

About the source of inspiration, Monika said that Gyanendra’s brother Anand was a deaf and dumb and he died mysteriously in a train accident. At that time, Gyanendra was pursuing his CA course. He left the study and devoted his time for the disabled. Gyanendra said that his family received an appointment letter from a public sector bank after one month of the death of his brother, and termed it as heart-breaking.

When ToI contacted a deaf and dumb, Pawan Pandey, a resident of Sagar, has seen the movies in sign language. He said that earlier he was taking the help of his family members but often he found it annoyed them. Now he can enjoy these movies without the help of any one, Pawan said.

A resident of Khandwa, Anil Patel said that he was feeling boredom while watching movies as he was unable to understand it properly. Now, he enjoys like any normal person. He emphasised the dubbing of more movies.

Planet of Snail

from the Tribeca film festival site:
Planet of Snail

Feature Documentary | 89 min | World Documentary Competition

Deaf and blind, Young-Chan lives in the quiet, isolated world of his small apartment, nursing dreams of someday becoming a successful writer. But when Soon-Ho, an empathetic woman herself compromised by a spinal disability, comes into his life, a unique love story begins. A small and delicate tale, Planet of Snail depicts this inseparable pair in their daily life, infusing beauty and gravity into the minutest moments of their experience: the challenge of changing a light bulb, the thrill of a ride on a sled, the momentousness of a day out in the world alone.

Winner of the top jury prize at the world’s preeminent nonfiction film festival, the International Documentary Festival of Amsterdam, Planet of Snail is a poetic and gently paced study that brings to life the sensual world shared by this special couple. Deftly directed with tenderness and subtlety under the sensitive hand of documentarian Seung-Jun Yi, Planet of Snail is a visually striking, intimate, and experiential journey that proves the greatest beauty can be found in the smallest and most unlikely love stories.
–Cara Cusumano

Sony Creates Glasses That Provide Subtitles for Movies

from flip – Disability Equality In The Arts

Sony Creates Glasses That Provide Subtitles for Movies
Published April 16, 2012 at 3:59 pm
Sony is looking to change the experience of cinema-going for anyone in need of subtitles for a movie by creating a special type of glasses that is capable of displaying subtitles on screen, just for you. Such a technology would allow anyone in need of subtitles to attend any showing they wish while others in the audience need not be bothered by the appearance of subtitles on the screen for them. The 3D-like glasses, which have a receiver attached to the side of them, will be in sync with the projector.

For further info see

of the BBC’s report on

Todd Selby x Christine Sun Kim

Christine Sun Kim is a Deaf performance artist working to reclaim the world of sound for herself. From NOWNESS:

Cult photographer and filmmaker Todd Selby’s latest short is a revealing portrait of performance artist Christine Sun Kim. Deaf from birth, Kim turned to using sound as a medium during an artist residency in Berlin in 2008, and has since developed a practice of lo-fi experimentation that aims to re-appropriate sound by translating it into movement and vision. “It’s a lot more interesting to explore a medium that I don’t have direct access to and yet has the most direct connection to society at large,” says the artist. “Social norms surrounding sound are so deeply ingrained that, in a sense, our identities cannot be complete without it.” Selby filmed an exclusive performance from Kim in a Brooklyn studio as the artist played with field recordings of the street sounds of her Chinatown neighborhood, feedback and helium balloons, and made “seismic calligraphy” drawings from ink- and powder-drenched quills, nails and cogs dancing across paper to the vibrations of subwoofers beneath. Working with sound designer Arrow Kleeman, Selby carefully choreographed the film’s ambient score to reveal the Orange County native’s unique relationship with sound. “Her work deals with reclaiming sound because it’s a foreign world to her and one she’s not comfortable in,” explains Selby. “I wanted the film to act as an artistic conduit for her to tell her story to the world.”

(Todd Selby, by the way, is blind.)

Film about deaf wrestler winning audiences

From the North County Times:

deaf actor Russell Harvard

Deaf actor Russell Harvard stars as real-life deaf wrestling champion Matt Hammill in the biographical film "The Hammer," opening Oct. 28.

Having grown up both an athlete and a movie fan, Eben Kostbar knew when he heard the story of wrestler Matt Hamill that something cinematic was possible.

Kostbar, a producer, writer, director and sometime actor, had grown up inspired by underdog films such as “Rocky,” “Rudy” and “Hoosiers.” A former wrestler and fan of mixed martial-arts, Kostbar liked what he saw in Hamill’s story. Here was an athlete who was deaf, and managed to overcome a low-income, high-risk background to find fame and success in sports.

Hamill is a three-time NCAA Division III National Champion in wrestling, and earned a silver medal in Greco-Roman wrestling and a gold medal in freestyle wrestling from the 2001 Summer Deaflympics. Hamill was later a contestant on the third season of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality television show.

The movie Kostbar co-produced and co-wrote on Hamill’s life is called “The Hammer.” The film is opening for short runs at dozens of theaters across the country today, including the Vista Village Metroplex 15 and UltraStar Cinemas Mission Marketplace 13 in Oceanside. It is directed by Oren Kaplan and co-written and produced by Joseph McKelheer.

“I heard Matt’s story and thought, ‘Wow, that’s remarkable,'” Kostbar said in a telephone interview. “He’s an inspiring guy. He was receptive to meeting and talking about making his story into a film, and it took off from there.”

Kostbar says he knows sports films need a hook and some emotional momentum.

“Matt was open to including all of the aspects of his life,” Kostbar said. “It’s really a perfect underdog story. Here was a deaf person accomplishing something that had never been done by another deaf person. Although I knew American Sign Language, I didn’t have a lot of experience with deaf people, but I was fascinated by this. I knew that a movie would draw the interest of hearing people who wanted to know more, and would also inspire the deaf community.”

Filming for “The Hammer” happened mostly in New York, as Hamill attended Rochester Institute of Technology. While Kostbar initially considered playing the lead role himself, the filmmakers ultimately decided to hire a deaf actor, Russell Harvard, who had a role in the film “There Will Be Blood.”

“We made sure we had deaf crew members, and that people from the deaf community were involved throughout,” Kostbar said. “We wanted everything as authentic as possible.”

After finishing production, “The Hammer” was submitted for film festivals across the country, and became a festival success story, winning audience-favorite awards almost everywhere it landed.

“The audience simply took the film to heart,” Kostbar said. “We were so happy with the festival reaction.”

The festival success was so strong, in fact, that “The Hammer” was able to do what most independent, low-budget films rarely do: pick up a distributor for theatrical distribution. The film will have a DVD release early next year, but the filmmakers are encouraging people to see it in theaters for maximum effect, and to show distributors that audiences will support independent films such as this.

“The film will also make wrestling and mixed-martial arts fans happy, because the action is so real,” Kostbar said. “It will also bring attention to the deaf community in the best possible way. It’s a film that anyone who has struggled will identify with.”

Visit for more information.

Marlee Matlin on “The L Word”: an unrealistic representation of Deaf communication, but she’s on TV

By Lillie Ransom, Gallaudet University
& Beth Haller, Towson University
Paper presented at the National Communication Association conference,
San Diego, Calif., November 2009. (Conclusion added August 2011.)

The premium cable channel, Showtime, launched “The L Word” in 2004. It was the first American TV show to explore the life experiences of lesbians. The show followed on the heels of another gay-themed show on Showtime, the remake of the same-named British show “Queer as Folk,” which ran in the USA from 2000-2005 (imdb, 2011). That show primarily focused on gay men, but had two main characters who were a lesbian couple.

It’s ironic that Showtime launched “The L Word” in 2004 when, according to one network TV show producer, that same year, their show wasn’t allowed to show two women kissing. The show, which lasted four episodes, was the critically acclaimed Wonderfalls on FOX, which had a main character who was a closeted lesbian (Holland & Fuller, Wonderfalls DVD, 2004).

“The L Word” opened as a hit and was the quickest renewal of a Showtime series ever (Showtime, 2004). The show became much discussed and debated in the LGBT community and in the LGBT media. But only a few scholars have turned their attention to it. In 2006 British scholars published the book, Reading “The L Word” (Akass & McCabe, 2006), which is part of the Reading Contemporary TV series that had other books focused on shows like “Six Feet Under” and “Sex and the City.” TV scholar Candace Moore also turned her attention to “The L Word” in an article for Cinema Journal in 2007.

It’s Moore’s work that informs our thoughts about the inclusion of a deaf character into “The L Word,” played by Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin. Moore, in her analysis of the first two seasons, which doesn’t include Matlin’s character, argues that “The L Word” provides a kind of tourist pass into the lesbian community for straight audience members. And she, and members from the LGBT community, believe that has informed the relatively monolithic presentation of West Hollywood lesbians in the beginning of the show’s run.

Moore says “The L Word” “slowly worked to acculturate its straight viewership” to the world of lesbians (2007, p.5). She posits that’s why the first season focuses on a straight woman, Jenny, who begins to question her own sexuality after her and her boyfriend move into a lesbian neighborhood in LA. Moore calls that character an insider-outsider, who provides a non-threatening guide to the community for straight audience members.

Interestingly, many of the criticisms of “The L Word” from the lesbian community focused on the Jenny character’s lying and confusion and on the lack of diversity among the lesbian characters. (In the first seasons, all the characters are white, except for the Jennifer Beals’ character, who is bi-racial like the actress.) As the show added to its diversity, we believe that adding a deaf character was part of that initiative.
Many of the people involved with “The L Word’s” production, creator, writers, producers, etc., are lesbians and they have been responsive to the LGBT community’s complaints about the show. In the second season, Jenny began living her life as a lesbian and they added a Hispanic main character Carmen, played by Sarah Shahi (who has a Mexican and Middle Eastern background). In season 3, Carmen remained and the season explored the issue of breast cancer and introduced a character, Moira, who was transitioning to become a man named Max. (There had also been complaints that all the characters were very feminine and few could claim a butch identity.)

In Season 4, Marlee Matlin’s character, Jodi Lerner, joins the group. She is a sculptor who teaches in the university art dept where Jennifer Beals’ character, Bette, is the dean. They begin a relationship.

Our research doesn’t reveal specifically why “The L Word” added a deaf character, but Marlee Matlin has been a guest star on numerous TV shows since the TV show created for her, “Reasonable Doubts,” was cancelled in 1993. Signing onto “The L Word” posed no concern for Matlin, who has long been seen as a friend to the gay community. She says she sees similarities between homophobia and discrimination against deaf people (Penn, 2007). She has been vocal in her support of gay rights and her brother is gay. In her interviews about joining the show, she said: “The discriminatory practices against the GLBT community parallel almost exactly those against deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Misunderstanding, stereotyping and discrimination – of these things which have happened to the GLBT have been routinely happening to deaf people for years” (Esther, 2008, p. 37). She has appeared in other TV shows with LGBT themes: Matlin’s role as the mayor in several years of the show “Picket Fences” included a scenario in which she carried a baby for her character’s brother and his partner (, 2007).

With the inclusion of a deaf woman, season 4 became “The L Word’s” most diverse ever. It added an older lesbian, Phyllis, played by Cybill Shepard, and an African American lesbian, Tasha, played by Rose Rollins. This research project focuses primarily on the Marlee Matlin character in Season 4, because even though the Jodi character remained in Season 5, that season was not available on DVD until Oct. 2008 (after this presentation was written).

Marlee Matlin says that after she won the Academy Award at such a young age, naysayers said she’d never work again – because she is a deaf person who wanted a traditional acting career (McQueen, 2006). But she has proved them wrong. She has appeared in many more movies and has become a go-to actress for guest spots. In addition to these numerous guest star roles, she played other long-term characters on shows such as “The West Wing,” 2000-06. We argue that her appearance all over TV in the past 20+ years has revolutionized representations of deaf people on TV.

And “The L Word” is significant because it is the first time TV has acknowledged the intersection of a “disability” and the LGBT community. (The reason disability is in quotes is because the deaf community usually resists the association of deafness and disability.) But in terms of audience reaction to a deaf TV character, we believe the average non-disabled person doesn’t know the difference between disability and deafness. Matlin herself makes the connection between deafness and disability in her role as a spokesperson for the International Labor Organization (ILOTV, 2007).

So “The L Word” gives us a rich text in which to examine a complex deaf character on TV. Too often deaf characters on TV are only in one episode and the plot revolves around some image of deafness as a deficiency. Whereas in “The L Word,” the Jodi character is on equal footing with the other characters and brings some aspects of deaf culture into the show. She is in a romantic relationship with a hearing person, she is a famous artist, she is a friend and teacher and she interacts in the world using both sign language and spoken English. The “L Word” writers also show us that at least one of Jodi’s former partners was a deaf woman who not only is frustrated that Jodi has moved on but implies she is resentful that she may be leaving the deaf community. And it is possible that by speaking so much in the role, Jodi (Marlee Matlin) is single handedly making hearing people more comfortable hearing deaf speech on TV. She is quite brave to use her voice because she has often talked about how she was taunted as a child for her deaf speech (Lofaro, 2006) and faced backlash in the deaf community when she spoke, instead of signing, during the Academy Awards.

Another significant aspect to Matlin’s representation on “The L Word” is the prominent role of her sign language interpreter. In another radical move, the Jodi character’s interpreter, Tom (played by Jon Wolfe Nelson), becomes a supporting character in the show in season 4 and 5 (Advocate, 2008). Nelson is an actor and sign language interpreter, who built a career doing both; he interprets Broadway theatre for deaf audiences and had played Matlin’s interpreter on “The West Wing,” so she requested him for “The L Word” (Eng, 2008). The Tom character also addresses another diversity complaint about the show – that there were no prominent gay male characters on the show, so Tom filled that spot and in season 5 begins a relationship with the transgendered character, Max.

This interpreter-deaf person relationship is somewhat unusual in the show. For all the important information Marlee Matlin’s character is “teaching” audiences about deaf people, the Jodi character is modeling something that rarely exists in sign language interpreting.

Interpreter/Jodi relationship 1

The Jodi character is a professional, and like most of the other characters on “The L Word,” is upper middle class, a well-respected artist and has a great deal of control over her professional and personal life. Jodi holds her own with the others on the show, primarily because she is like them in most ways—well-educated, gainfully employed, white, feminine, and attractive.

Based on conversations with Gallaudet undergraduate students during Season 4, Jodi’s propensity to talk and interact with hearing people as much or more than with deaf people is tolerated because of their pride at having a deaf character included in the first place. These students are so thrilled to have some deaf and ASL representation on this popular show, that they are less critical about how realistic the representation is, or even about whether the representation matches “their deaf culture centric” view of the preferred communication method for social interactions – signing with others who are fluent in sign.

This analysis of the Jodi/Tom interactions is based primarily upon Ransom’s own experiences as an interpreter and as a member of the U.S. Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). This organization, along with the U.S. National Association for the Deaf (NAD), trains and certifies American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters in the United States. RID was established in 1964.

In the real world, most deaf people do not have their own “personal interpreters” at their beck and call in all situations and circumstances. In some ways, the Tom character harkens back to an older model of interpreting for deaf people. A few decades ago, most ASL interpreters were family members and/or friends of deaf people. These hearing people became interpreters because their ability to understand and use both American Sign Language and spoken English. As such, they made little effort to distinguish between their roles as interpreters between the deaf and hearing communities and their roles as siblings, parents, or friends.

Another model that could be used to examine Jodi and Tom’s relationship is called “diplomatic interpreting.” Cook (2004) describes diplomatic interpreting as “an association built on a foundation of mutual trust characterized by the interpreter’s intense interest in and commitment to the work of the Deaf professional. There is a degree of connection found between the two individuals that frequently results in a seamless presentation” (pp. 58-59). Cook reports that precedents for diplomatic interpreting are found among spoken language interpreters. According to Cook, these types of close knit relationships are most often seen when there is a Deaf professional working among hearing colleagues.

There have been extensive efforts by RID and NAD to increase the professional nature of interpreting during the past 20 to 30 years, including allegiance to a Professional Code of Conduct. Interpreters are required to get training and abide by a Code of Ethics. Interpreters are required to participate in continuing education activities in order to maintain certification.

As a result of the increased professionalization of interpreting, the more common contemporary interpreting scenario involves requesting and securing interpreters on an “as needed” basis. Many interpreters are hired through agencies and services; their fees are paid by businesses or government agencies to provide interpreting services for specific occasions, for instance during employment interviews, training activities, and medical appointments and during medical procedures.

While the Tom interpreter character reflects an older model of interpreting, or perhaps the diplomatic interpreter model, we believe he may also be modeled after Marlee Matlin’s actual interpreter, Jack Jason, who is her business partner and almost always accompanies her during professional interactions (Rojas, 2011). Jason is a CODA (child of deaf adults) who considers sign language his first language. He met Matlin in New York City at the time of the promotion of the film, “Children of a Lesser God,” when Matlin needed someone fluent in sign to show her around the city. However, the Matlin-Jason relationship is unique; most deaf people, even well-to- do deaf people, do not hire full-time personal interpreters.

Perhaps “The L Word” writers while responding to some of the criticisms from the LGBT community for portraying West Hollywood, upper middle class lesbians with little diversity and little relationship to the lives that many working class lesbians live, the producers and writers have unwittingly extended their original biases to the Jodi character, and thus creating an unrealistic interpreter/friend character. It has never been made clear on “The L Word” who pays Tom’s salary. Does he work for the university, the art department, or Jodi personally?

Tom is seen interpreting in professional meetings, at parties, and even in intimate face-to-face conversations between Jodi and Bette. Tom even interjects his own opinions into some of the conversations he interprets, when, for instance, he implores Jodi to give Bette a break, after Bette and Jodi have had a serious falling out and Bette attempts to reach out to Jodi (Episode 4.12, “Long Time Coming”). There are several other episodes where he interjects his thoughts on the Bette-Jodi relationship or Jodi’s exes.

For example, Episode 4.5 “Lez Girls” includes an intimate scene between Jodi and Bette as they hang outside while others are partying inside Phyllis’ house. Jodi gives Bette a sensual “shot gun” hit of marijuana and Tom is there looking on. This is rather jarring for viewers, who said in recap comments that they wouldn’t want Tom there for their intimate moments (, 2004), and for those who know about the ethics guidelines for interpreters.

By way of contrast, notice how a real life Interpreter Coordinator in an August 2008 email reminds interpreters to be very careful about how they conduct themselves:
Due to a few recent incidents, I’m compelled to send out a reminder about professional demeanor while on assignments. None of this is new information as you’ve all learned it in your ITPS [Interpreter Training Programs] or in the school of common sense. However, it seems some folks have become overly comfortable working for us at ____and have let adherence to these principles lapse.
The coordinator cites specifics including dress code, personal conversations, partaking in food being served, and first and foremost reminds interpreters NOT TO INTERJECT THEIR OPINIONS into conversations they are observing or interpreting. On a related note, Rodriguez and Reguera (2002) examined the codes of ethics for sign language interpreters in 12 countries. There were several variations among all countries represented; however, they found there were two codes all countries have inscribed in their code of ethics: The first is impartiality and neutrality and the second shared code is confidentiality.

And even though the title of Cook’s 2004 article begins, “Neutrality, no thanks,” she seems like she is challenging the impartiality and neutrality ethic, but a close reading indicates she is not. Cook instead examines the unique closeness between the deaf client and his/her interpreter in the diplomatic interpreting role. She does not advocate for or cite any instances where this closeness was used or should be used as an excuse to advise the deaf person or gossip about shared experiences during an interpreted setting.


Tying these observations to the question of whether “The L Word” has improved or moved forward the representation of deaf people on American TV or has the show taken representations backward? Not surprisingly, there is no clear answer to this question. “The L Word” writers and producers should be commended for including a deaf person as a regular for two seasons. It is never possible to adequately convey any group of people through one character. Certainly, as a result of “The L Word,” its audience is learning more about sign language, deaf speech, and the unlimited abilities, versatility, and complexities of deaf people. To use Moore’s term, the audience is given a “tourist pass” to enter the world of one deaf lesbian. But, at the same time, people are inappropriately learning that communication and access is always seamless, easy, and that having an interpreter always present is a realistic option for most deaf people.

Since “The L Word” went off the air, Matlin has continued in a variety of TV roles, and one type of TV role – as reality show contestant – may have inadvertently explained the Jodi-Tom relationship. With reality TV growing in popularity, Marlee Matlin joined the fray. She became a contestant on “Dancing with the Stars” in 2008 and on “The Celebrity Apprentice” in 2011. Because reality TV doesn’t employ Matlin as an actor, her interpreter Jack Jason was no long behind the scenes on a sound stage but became visible to large TV audiences as he interpreted for her on-camera.

His name became known and he was profiled in The Los Angeles Times in May 2011, where he discussed how he became more than an interpreter to Matlin (similar to “The L Word’s” Tom character). “He’s not simply an interpreter for hire. He’s a confidant, a business advisor and, in a sense, serves as the voice for Matlin, whom he calls the ‘most visible deaf person in the world’” (Rojas, 2011). Jason explains how he jumped out of the interpreter role in a business meeting to take on a role as adviser and business partner to Matlin:

For more than 20 years, Jason has served as Matlin’s conduit to an industry and a viewing public that sometimes doesn’t grasp the concept of a deaf actress. Behind the scenes, he pitches her to casting directors and tweaks roles built for a hearing actor so that she can be a contender. Jason remembers the moment when the balance between being an interpreter and advisor shifted. It was in a long-ago meeting with movie executives in which he blurted out an idea for a version of ‘Wait Until Dark’ with a deaf character. That moment, Jason says, was when ‘I broke the mold. I stepped out of my interpreter role’ (Rojas, 2011).

What he doesn’t mention is that he is violating the guidelines for proper interpreter behavior. But the story of how he became Matlin’s interpreter shows that his relationship with Matlin seems to be more like what Cook (2004) calls “diplomatic interpreting,” in which the interpreter has a strong interest in the work of the deaf professional and based on their mutual trust, they move past an “interpreter for hire” only relationship. Jason met Matlin when he was a NYU graduate student in film, and he says he has always had an intense interest in the entertainment industry because he taught himself spoken English through watching television as a child.

So the kind of relationship Jack Jason and Marlee Matlin built for themselves is outside the bounds of what sign language interpreters usually provide for deaf clients. But that unique relationship has been seen in one place – in “The L Word’s” Tom and Jodi. So even though the Tom-Jodi relationship reflected few real experiences of the average deaf person, it did accurately mirror the interpreter-deaf client relationship of an Academy Award-winning actress and her interpreter turned business partner.


Advocate. (2008, Jan. 29). The L Word 5.0. p. 56. (2007). The L Word recaps, Lez Girls.

Akass, K. & McCabe, J. (2006). (Eds.) Reading The L Word. London: I.B. Tauris.

Anonymous. (August 2006). Email message to freelance and contract interpreters.

Cook, A. (2004). Neutrality? No thanks. Can a biased role be an ethical one? Journal of Interpretation, Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Alexandria, Virginia.

Eng, J. (2008, Dec. 30). Jon Wolfe Nelson Readies for L Word’s Final Sign-off.

Esther, J. (2008, Jan. 1). In the hear and now with Marlee Matlin. Lesbian News, pp. 36-37.

Holland, T. & Fuller, B. (2004). Wonderfalls DVD. [Episode commentary by director and executive producer.]

ILOTV, (2007, Dec. ). Marlee Matlin, ‘leading lady’ for people with disabilities. [YouTube video].

Internet Movie Database. (2008). Queer as Folk entry.

Lofaro, T. (2006, Oct. 7). Matlin defies her critics: Actress is comfortable appearing in adult drama. Ottawa Citizen, p. K6.

McQueen, A. M. (2006, Sept. 15). Matlin lives in the hear and now. The Ottawa Sun, p. 39.

Moore, C. (2007). Having it all ways: The tourist, the traveler, and the local in The L Word. Cinema Journal, 46:4, pp. 3-23.

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. (2008). NAD-RID Code of Professional Conduct.

Penn, D. (2007, January). New season – new faces on The L Word. Lesbian News Magazine, pp. 28-32.

Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf. (2008). Education and certification process.

Rodriguez, E.S. and Reguera. (2002). An international perspective: What are ethics for sign language interpreters? A Comparative Study among Different Codes of Ethics. Journal of Interpretation. Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf, Alexandria, Virginia.

Rojas, R. (2011, May 21). Jack Jason gives voice to, but doesn’t talk over, Marlee Matlin. Los Angeles Times.

Scribegrrrl blog. (2007). I want Marlee Matlin to run for President. Accessed Dec. 29, 2007.

Showtime channel. (2004, Jan. 29). Showtime renews critically-acclaimed series “The L Word” for the second season. [Press release]. (2007). Bye-Bye, Bey-Bey. [Picket Fences episode 87, aired April 24, 1996]. Accessed Dec. 29, 2007.


1. An expanded version of this section later appeared in the article: Ransom, L. (2009). Representing us at any cost? RID Views, Vol. 26, Issue 4, pp. 54-55.
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