This site now acts as an archive only. For the latest news, opinion, blogs and listings on disability arts and culture visit

Disability Arts Online

Melissa Mostyn thinks reverse psychology could be the way to go / 23 July 2010

Still showing Genevieve Barr in 'The Silence'.

Still showing Genevieve Barr in 'The Silence'. Credit: BBC/Company Pictures/Jonathan Hession

Zoom in to this image and read text description

Whatever we think of The Silence (see DAO review), at least it has given me a little more film-maker’s insight into how some hearing people might still perceive deaf people.

Not that I lack first-hand experience, of course. I am, after all, part of the 90% born to hearing families. But the BBC’s attempts to portray Deaf Culture as a silent world has actually got me dancing about the reverse psychology that I want to apply to my story.

If sound is a means of access, then it’s not very effective, is it? We might as well turn synaesthetic and watch shades of grey transmogrifying into each other; yes, nice variations in tone and pitch but otherwise a bit, erm, monotonous. But as a metaphor for deaf access on celluloid, it could be quite exciting.

Say someone is filmed switching on the telly, but there’s no sound. He fetches the remote from his sofa and fixes the subtitles – and once they appear on-screen the sound emerges as if he’s switched on the volume. The triggers for Deaf Culture in my film wouldn’t necessarily always have to be written English; any sign, gesture, facial expression, or body language would literally speak louder than words.

Meanwhile all the noises that irk hearing people – a chair squealing while being dragged across the floor, uninhibited (read strident) belly-laughs, hands banging loudly on tables to get someone’s attention, stomping footsteps – clamour together to form the archetypal deaf aural environment. And for the hearing people who speak in the film? Their voices get cut off, unless their lip movements are clear, in which case the odd consonant slips in.

OK, this is a deaf person’s film that is likely to attract deaf audiences for reasons of empathy and interest in a story that also explores the perspective of children of Deaf adults (CODAs). But I want to pique hearing interest beyond that of the CODAs and BSL interpreters likely to watch my film too. I have nothing against deaf film-makers whose only aim is to make entertainment aimed smack bang at deaf audiences, but I’m itching to stretch creative boundaries to the point of pain.

It’s difficult. Everyone knows that a soaring Hollywood blaze is the lowest common denominator and that experimental film-making doesn’t ensnare you in quite the same way. People just want to flop in front of the screen and stuff themselves with popcorn and mindless thrills – and who’s to begrudge them that?  

But there’s a time and a place for being cerebral - and it’s only cerebral if it’s not part of your usual everyday mind-set. Everyone wants an easy life, but the fact is Deafies have grown up being pressured to adopt a hearing mentality when they shouldn’t have to. Is it too much to ask hearing people to watch just one 15-minute film that will prick their intellect?

Keywords: access issues,codas,deaf culture,film,normality,reverse psychology,subversion,