Marlee Matlin, best known for her Oscar-winning performance on Children of a Lesser God and her role as Jodi on The L Word, is now behind the camera on a new reality show, My Deaf Family. “Deaf and hard of hearing people make up one of the largest minority groups, and yet there has never been a show, a reality documentary series that features what life is like for them,” Matlin said in an LA Times post.
Even though the reality television landscape (or more precisely, wasteland) would benefit greatly from a show like this, the pilot is debuting on YouTube, and not network television. It turns out that most producers’ reactions “couldn’t have been more positive,” but….
…as is the case with me and a lot of ideas that I’ve pitched over the years involving story lines with deaf characters, they didn’t quite know if they could pull it off or even how…They still hesitated because they had no idea how an audience would react to characters signing with voice-overs and occasional subtitles. Anyone who watches reality television will tell you that they employ subtitles a lot for dialogue that’s difficult to catch on the fly. But I wouldn’t give up.
Matlin wasn’t going to wait around for producers to come around, so she went to YouTube (“I decided to put it out there on my own terms. It’s akin to having my own [TV] network.”), where you can watch the show’s ten minute pilot. YouTube’s recent implementation of close-captioning for all its content was another draw for Matlin, who points out that the close-captioned shows on television lose their transcription when they go online.
The show itself promises to be delightful. Following a family of six who live in Fremont, California, home to the California School of Deaf, we’re introduced to Bridgetta and Lesley (mom and dad), Jared (15), Gideon (12), Sabrina (6), and Elijah (3). Jared and Elijah are the only hearing members of the family.
(Some of my favorite parts: Mom Bridgetta signing Michael Jackson to her daughter, Marlee poking her smiling face in every now and again.)
Jared, at 15 the oldest of the children, is spotlighted as the main character, but the rest of his family aren’t portrayed as satellites revolving around him, and are given plenty of camera time themselves. Bridgetta especially has some of the most interesting commentary, whether it be how she’s treated as a deaf woman in public to the nurse’s responses to the birth of her youngest, hearing son, Elijah:
When Sabrina was born there was a hearing test right away and the nurse was looking real concerned going in and out of the room, and the nurse said, “You’re daughter’s not responding.” And I said, “Oh, she’s deaf. That’s fine with us.” But when Elijah was born, everyone in the hospital comes in saying, “Congratulations, your son passed the hearing test!” And I’m like, “Congratulations?” Uh, does that mean we “failed” up until now as parents with our other kids?
Although Matlin financed and produced the first show, she admits she’s not rolling in dough and does hope that the show picks up some sort of backing either online or on network tv, not for financial gain, but to “find the means to tell more stories about this fascinating family” and “to make good TV with characters you’ve never seen before but which you can easily identify with. Isn’t that what it’s always been about?”
Marlee Matlin launches reality series on YouTube [L.A. Times]