Not everyone is so enthralled with Netflix’s latest series Deaf U.
Deaf U recently dropped its first season, which follows a group of undergraduate students at Gallaudet University (a Deaf university) as they navigate the ups and downs of college life. The show has been dubbed a “docu-soap” and is very much in the same vein as Laguna Beach and The Hills.
The show is executive produced by actor/model Nyle DiMarco — the ridiculously attractive (and Deaf) winner of America’s Next Top Model cycle 22 and Dancing With the Stars season 22.
Nyle has said that he hopes the series will serve as “an entrance into [the Deaf world] world, which is so rich in culture and so layered and diverse.”
But many Deaf and hard of hearing viewers feel that this was a missed opportunity. Some took to Reddit to express their frustrations over the show’s lack of nuance and decision not to dive deeper into Deaf culture.
One person wrote,
“I really feel this would’ve been a great opportunity to show accommodation issues for Deaf/HOH people. To talk about Deaf history and hearing privilege in non-Deaf friendly spaces. To have a controlled narrator of sorts give meaning and direction to these young adults who touched on an important topic but didn’t have the full depth of what their words mean.”
“I’m really happy we got deaf representation on Netflix, but it didn’t highlight enough about the deaf community.”
And yet another said,
“Seems very reductionist towards Deaf culture. Turned the whole thing into a party/dating/sexuality show. Being a deaf person, I’d like to believe our ‘culture’, whatever that may be, amounts more than just sex, or typical teenage horniness.”
A lot of people even specifically called out Nyle and said they worried it would harm his reputation as a Deaf activist since the show was more “trashy” than educational.
One person went so far as to write,
“I was disappointed with Nyle DiMarco. Knowing his activism background and such, and being one of the producers, I expected he would take the show as an opportunity to highlight social issues faced by the Deaf/deaf/HoH community, or even delve into important aspects of the community and culture, serving sort of as ‘primer’ for hearing people. But it seems that he’s indeed going down the ‘being harmful to my own community route.'”
Another major complaint is that there were no Deaf Black women featured on the show despite the many Deaf Black women who attend Gallaudet.
And it wasn’t just Reddit where Deaf and hard of hearing viewers expressed their frustrations. Twitter users also showed concern over the lack of Black female representation as well as the portrayal of the “Elites”.
One person tweeted,
“It was like the deaf version of Mean Girls. But lemme tell you, as someone who grew up mainstream, there are more open-minded deaf people not the community that they are ‘elites.'”
In the same thread, someone else added,
“My [hard of hearing] 20yo daughter and I are watching it and we’re just talking about the same things. Are all women there blonde with long hair? No; only 51% of Gallaudet students are white.”
Of course, Deaf U is only a very limited view of Deaf culture. But when you have a group of people (like the Deaf community) that is already so incredibly underrepresented on television, it’s more important than ever that you seize what little opportunity you have. And it sounds like Nyle really missed the boat this time around.
It’s too soon to tell whether or not the series will get a second season, but if it does, hopefully, Nyle and the Netflix team will take viewers’ concerns to heart. For many hearing folks, Deaf U will be their first foray into the Deaf world and it would be a shame if they walked away without more knowledge than they walked in with.
Deaf U is such a great chance to tell a variety of stories about young Deaf people in this country. Perhaps with a little more time, Nyle DiMarco could really make his community proud.
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