Interview with Alex Abenchuchan from the Daily Moth. Thanks so much, Alex!
Interview with Alex Abenchuchan
Building Our Stage
#DeafInMedia Interview with Alex Abenchuchan
[Shara Winesburg]: We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to interview Alex Abenchuchan from the Daily Moth. We’ll be talking about Deaf in media.
[SW]: How would you define authentic Deaf representation within the media?
[Alex Abenchuchan]: I see authentic representation as Deaf people being both in front of the camera and behind the camera. There are many Deaf people in front of the camera, sure but having a team together to make that decision to edit, to distribute to a hearing audience while are Deaf individuals represented throughout the entire process? I don’t know, because the story may have changed over the final. With Deaf people involved in the entire process, creating the script, filming, and that becomes authentic. Having representation both in front and behind the camera.
[SW]: Is authentic Deaf representation important?
[AA]: Many in the media try to tell our story but do they really know, truly understand the needs that Deaf people have? We have our own language (ASL), plus we have the experience of oppression – less so if the parents are Deaf than when parents are hearing, when there may be more communication issues. Then attending a Deaf institute is different, attending a mainstream school is different, the issues we face at our jobs is different. So we have a different identity. If someone tries to tell our stories who doesn’t understand the Deaf experience, it’s not going to be authentic. It will be a misrepresentation that could possibly hurt us by spreading the wrong message. So it’s important that Deaf people tell our own stories – that will be more authentic, more powerful, and have more impact that will benefit us. That’s important.
[SW]: What do you think is the current state of Deaf representation in the media?
[AA]: I think it’s improving, recently there was a big Deaf role available and a hearing actress, Jamila Jamil publicly turned down the role of a Deaf character because it wasn’t appropriate and she believed that it should be played by a Deaf person. Wow. Also, another big film “Baby Driver” the director said he couldn’t envision the role not being played by a Deaf person, CJ Jones and Now “Avatar” a huge motion picture franchise and he’s going on that. Meaning even James Cameron is taking notice and where is that coming from? The little impacts the Deaf community makes, always speaking out and using #DeafTalent to spread their message and become outspoken for change. Recently, there was another film “Hush” on Netflix, the entire film is played by a hearing person acting like a Deaf person and her husband, Flannagan the director has gone on to direct other films but has not taken on a role or directed with in authenticity since, so I think they got the message there from us. So I believe that with our constant efforts, even though it can be exhausting, tiring and frustrating at times but with the pushes, hearing media are taking notice and they see it. The proof is here from Jamila and others taking a stand and I look forward to seeing more ahead, leading to more opportunities for Deaf talent.
[SW]: What are some negative examples you’ve seen within the media?
[AA]: I tend to read about Deaf people in the news; google/news/Deaf every day, there’s always something going on, around the world. One thing I see over and over again from hearing journalists is that they assume that Deaf can’t, so they say things like “even though he’s deaf he still can play football,” or “Even though she’s deaf, she still enjoys music.” I feel like they’ve missed the memo. Deaf people invented the football huddle! There are Deaf musicians out there! Mandy Harvey, you know, she’s deaf! Journalists – including myself – tend to operate on assumptions. So that’s not necessarily their fault, it’s a reflection of how society views Deaf people. But that’s still a problem because it’s sending that message of “Deaf can’t” out to a large audience. I look forward to the day when it’s just “Deaf” without anything about our abilities. That’s still a problem.
[SW]: What are some positive examples you’ve seen?
[AA]: A big positive example is the DPN (Deaf President Now) protests in 1989. I was two at the time so I wasn’t paying attention then! But I’ve seen that it had a huge impact. “The Week the World Heard Gallaudet.” So many eyes on Gallaudet during that time. Gallaudet’s desire for a Deaf president and Deaf leadership, and those Deaf leaders being interviewed on the news every night, so many articles written about them. It was a big change and a lot of media exposure. In my experience at the Daily Moth, just today I read an article about one college in New Jersey, Stockton University and it mentioned “The Daily moth” there and how it had an impact and was involved. Also, just today I received an email about a high school student who had seen an episode on different state changes in policy from the terminology of hearing impaired to Deaf and hard of hearing in some states and in Massachusetts, they are now reaching out to their Senator to propose a bill to make that change there. So from here to there, there’s active change and you can see how Deaf in media can change the world through little but powerful changes.
[SW]: How do we improve Deaf representation in the media?
[AA]: I think the best way is for us to claim our space. Social media is powerful, with an enormous reach. We’ve seen various Deaf people set up their own channels – Daily Moth, Seek the World, Deafies in Drag, Melmira, and there’s a lot of new talent, Queen Foreverr Harold Foxx, Flipside and many more are creating opportunities for themselves. They’re flying around the country and presenting, like John Maucere has been doing it for a long time but he’s been consistent because of media. The internet is how we claim our own space without worrying about how to become part of the big hearing media outlets. We’re just going ahead and doing it ourselves. The way I say it is, if they won’t give you a stage, then go ahead and build it yourself. We have an audience. We have value. We have power. I think that’s important. Before you know it, we’ll be part of the more general media landscape. I believe that. We need to claim our space.