With 'Deaf U,' Nyle DiMarco Strives To Show 'There Is No One Right Way To Be Deaf'


On Michelle Martin. Let's go back to pre covert times for a minute. You're a college student, and you want to take a break from the grind by going out for a few drinks or maybe getting a mani pedi with your B F F. But the seats only allow you to sit next to each other rather than face each other. No big deal, right? Well, it kind of is, if you are deaf or hard of hearing, And if you use American Silang, which SL to communicate Where you use your hands and facial expressions are important. And those are just a few of the subtleties revealed to those outside of the deaf community in the new Netflix reality, Siri's deaf, you know. It follows a group of students that guided at University in Washington, D C, which is known as the on Ly University in the world, where students can live and learn in American sign, language and English. But students still have to navigate a world that isn't necessarily built for them. The creator of the series is Nyle DeMarco, the model actor and activist who won both America's next top model and dancing with the stars, the first death contestant to do so, and he is here with us now to tell us more. And through the miracle of technology. He and I are talking to each other. And you're going to hear the voice of his interpreter. Gray Van Pelt. Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us. Of course. It's my pleasure. Thanks so much for having me today. As I just noted, you've been on reality television kind of a star. You're a model dancer. Clearly an activist. How did the idea of making a show about your alma mater come to you? It's pretty interesting. It goes back to my own experience being on reality television. I always felt that the image that was kind of made of me on screen was very one dimensional was always asked specifically about my deafness about my identity's sorts of struggles, but never about the things that I liked or disliked or really anything that I would have offered more to who I wass. It was nothing really about The culture right? And the idea for this show really came with the realization that we could use this to reframe the deaf community and offering entrance into our world which is so rich in culture and so layered in diverse but one of the things that I noticed If you've seen any show about college life, then you're going to, you know, recognize the types the The athletes, the influencers, you know, I activists, But you also introduced us to another divide a guy a debt between the so called elite Capital D, deaf from well known deaf families. And then as you've described elsewhere, lower case D death, those who don't come from these well known death families. Why did you feel it was important to kind of highlight this other divide myself as somebody who views elites as a group. I see. It could be a positive thing in the preserving of sign language, our culture, You know, it's about passing down those legacies in those traditions that make our culture. So Reg. There certainly are lower case D people who might see elites as someone who's had an unfair advantage, right? Whether it's their educational background, their confidence, their identity, their language fluency coming into college debt for them often, you know, they face a challenge that They have to not only focus on getting a degree, but also focus on learning a new language and a new culture. But there are so many layers to that divide between elites and perhaps Laura Kees de definite, something that's really key for a community. It's very complicated, but it's a discussion that were starting to have one of the characters of football player named Rodney. Likes to think of himself a somewhere in the middle of this divide. He has cochlear implants so he can hear and he also signs and I want to play a clip. This's Rodney's father. Do you feel like you're in between? We're like caught in the middle. I a deft So I'm in a body community. And this is what he is saying to some degree. Is is that he gives himself a license to be a Yeah. Ronnie Rotten family is so incredible. He's one of my absolute favorite. On the show. And one thing that I really love about him is that he really, you know, showcases and embodies that there is no one right way to be deaf, right? He's already fluent in American sign language, and so he has access to both. He's able to function in a hearing world in a deaf world with SL in English versus Ah lot of other students who come in to Garland at with outside language. You know they're facing a struggle of looking to find a place to fit in. Ronnie's already got it figured out so you can see through the show. He's like, I'm good. It's one of the things I love about him. Well, one of the things that I really liked about this exchange, though it mirrors some conversations that I think we have about race in this country to Rodney's also African American, and he also Exists in the space of trying to figure out like, what does it mean to be that right now? What do I want to be the truth of me and who gets to decide that? I think at the core of it, you know, it comes from growing up specifically in a culture and having access to the language. You know, I do think that Romney is incredibly confident. And you know, he knows exactly where his intersectionality lies. I do want to mention that you've been forward facing death advocate part of Your work in this area met hiring death crew members and creatives. I want to highlight that because that's not something that you want would necessarily know watching the Siri's. But why was that important as someone who is deaf? You know, I know that if you really want unauthentic story, it has to happen behind the camera, you know, defies really captured the culture best and we actually made it a requirement that we had to hire deaf people. We wanted to ensure that at minimum, we had 30% of the deaf crew behind the scenes working and we ended up with 50%, which was incredible, and it's the first time it's ever been done in history. You know we're working. So that later we have a little Hollywood empire were able to develop our own TV shows in our movies and our content that really reflect of culture and an authentic experience. And this essentially was the start. I'm so thrilled about it. That was now DeMarco, creator of the New Netflix. Siri's deaf You It is available now. And just wanna mention that we've been hearing him through the voice of his interpreter, Nyle DiMarco. Thanks so much for talking to us. Course. This was such a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

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