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[Transcript] What ‘Sound Of Metal’ Got Right And Wrong About Hearing Loss And Deafness

Anita Rao
I'm Anita Rao. What does it sound like to lose your hearing? [Plays clip from "Sound of Metal"] At first, it was something
This is Embodied, our show tackling sex, relationships and your health. I'm Anita Rao. Stories about deafness and hearing loss are rarely taken on by Hollywood, which is why the Oscar nominated film "Sound of Metal" has gotten a lot of attention. It tells the story of Ruben, a heavy metal drummer who loses his hearing. Reuben learns American Sign Language and goes through the process of getting cochlear implants. The film has received both praise and critique for its representation of deaf and hard of hearing communities, including from some of the folks you're about to meet today. With me now is Yat Li, an advocate and creator of the YouTube channel "Let There Be Ears." Yat, welcome to the show.

Yat Li
Thank you for inviting me to the show. It's a pleasure to be here today.

Anita Rao
Also with us is Destiny Lopez, a multimedia storyteller, creative strategist and educator. Welcome to Embodied, Destiny.

Destiny Lopez
Thanks so much for having me. Glad to be here.

Anita Rao
And Amanda Murray, a filmmaker and the creator of a Retro Murray productions. Amanda, welcome.

Oh, we're not hearing your sound. We're just working through that technical issue. But while we do that, I'll just tell everyone that today's show can also be found as a visual broadcast on the WUNC Facebook page. So Yat, let me start with you. I'd love to know a bit about the emotional experience for you of watching the film. Like I mentioned in the billboard, I watched it with my partner who himself is hard of hearing. And he went through a big emotional roller coaster while watching. Tell me a bit about what it was like for you...?

Yat Li
Watching this movie "Sound of Metal" I was emotionally in a roller coaster basically. I was visually and also emotionally challenged. Because as a deaf and hard of hearing person growing up with a condition called microtia, I have little ears. And that also meant having profound hearing loss. Not often do you see representations of someone like myself on screen, let alone a Hollywood production. I felt like fragments of my childhood — my pain that I suffered, and also some of the differences that Ruben himself went through on film was represented in front of me. I actually had to stop halfway because I just had to catch my breath.

Anita Rao
Yeah, you did a review of the film. And you said that you were breathless. Watching the film actually took your breath away.

Yat Li
Yeah, you know, especially during a part when Ruben, Riz Ahmed, was in his trailer with Lou, his partner. And they were just about to go on tour and just about to, you know, have that new contract signed. I found that at the moment, while he was still struggling with you know, coping with his hearing loss. He just wanted to keep doing it. But then, you know, it wasn't possible for him. And you can see him really visually frustrated, upset. And just wondering why, you know, life has given a wrench to him.

Anita Rao
Yeah, you mentioned ... You are mentioning a scene earlier on kind of when Ruben is new in his hearing loss and is just feeling so much frustration that he wants to communicate, but he can't. And Lou is sometimes forgetting — Lou his girlfriend — is sometimes forgetting that he can't hear, and she's trying to talk to him. Destiny talk to me about about that frustration. I know that you lost your hearing when you were a child, right in elementary school? So I'm curious if any of that frustration resonated for you?

Destiny Lopez
Sure. So I actually I was born partially deaf, but I didn't really start to discover it until about first grade when they did those typical hearing tests where you have to like raise your hand during the beep. And it did start with one ear, so it started on my left ear, and then it generated into my right ear. So I did still feel some of that, like I felt some of that deterioration of my hearing. And I guess it was ... at first I felt like: Oh, I have some answers as to why I can't communicate with people. So there was like a comfort in figuring that out. But of course, there was also that frustration as I started to like catch on, like, oh, people aren't going to communicate in like, a special way for me. So there was like, you know, being really frustrated and feeling like I was the problem, but then also trying to figure out like, well, how can I just make it so that everybody can be a solution together? So I did ... I was reminded of some of that. I think it was a different experience for me because I was a kid. So you really don't know what you should be telling people to do in order to communicate with you, you know, so I've definitely felt some of the tension. But in a different age perspective, I would say.

Anita Rao
I want to play a clip now. And then Amanda, I'm going to go to you. This is my partner John talking a bit about his experience watching the film. Let's listen.

John Gardner
I recently watched "Sound of Metal," and found a lot of things about it very interesting, and also very stressful for me, as someone who has had partial hearing loss for 15 years, but only in one ear, not in both years, like the main character Ruben. The way they depicted the sounds of losing hearing, I found to be very realistic to my experience, both the metallic ringing of tinnitus that's non stop sounds a lot like the tinnitus in my ear, as well as just the background noise of deafness, which in the film was depicted kind of as underwater sensation, maybe like the sound when you put up a conch shell to your ear or something, that's, also what it sounds like for me in my deaf ear. [Playing clip of a scene from the movie depicting underwater-like sound] And then a particular scene that stood out for me was when Ruben was attending — after he got his cochlear implants — and he was attending a party in France, and he had a lot of trouble communicating and understanding and following conversation, and was often leaning in to try to hear people as they spoke. And that is exactly my experience in situations that are group settings, whether that's in bars, or wherever it is, where there's just more than three voices going, it's very hard to follow any one particular voice. [Playing clip from film of party scene] As it was for Ruben, that experience can be very isolating for someone with hearing loss, and just found that to be depicted very accurately.

Anita Rao
So that was my partner John talking about his experience watching the film "Sound of Metal," and Amanda, you are a filmmaker. So there's been a lot of conversation about the soundscape of this movie, how they portray the experience of losing hearing and all of the sounds that can be a part of that experience. I think for hearing folks, we don't realize that there is a lot of sound still left when you lose your hearing. It's not totally silent. So what did you make of the soundscape of the film? And how how that was portrayed?

Amanda Murray
Well, I've never gone through a period of... I've never gone through a period of losing my own hearing, because I was born profoundly deaf. So at the beginning of the movie, I was actually a little bit confused. Where the caption said "muzzled," and he was just kind of standing still, and I was like: Wait, what's going on? I finally figured it out. But there was a part at the end of it, where they showed the silence, the lack of sound. And in some ways I could relate to that, because I know what it's like to have total silence. But at the same time, I don't know what it's like to have this kind of —Oh, wait a minute. I'm supposed to hear something, but I'm not hearing that. So I couldn't really relate in that regard. But I do. I do know that most deaf people still have some residual sound. And I do too. I'm profoundly deaf. But I have just enough residual sound that I can use a hearing aid to communicate with the world around me. I know for me as a filmmaker, it is very important that we use appropriate representation in film. I am not the kind of person who can watch a movie and not pull up Google to research things I see. One of the first things I researched was: Who is deaf in this movie? When I found an article that said the director wanted to make he had someone from the deaf community so they could portray deafness in the movie. But who they hired was a CODAC — child of a deaf adult. And while that's still better than hiring someone with no experience in the deaf community, I still wish that they'd gone another step further and hired someone who's actually experienced deafness firsthand.

Anita Rao
Yeah, I want to talk more about that representation. So we you were mentioning is that Ruben, the main character, is played by a hearing actor. The other main role is Joe who's played by, yeah , a man who is the child of two deaf parents. So grew up in the deaf community, but is also hearing himself. So we're going to go into a quick break. But I want to talk more about representation when we come back and a little bit about the experience that deaf actors have in Hollywood trying to get roles and maybe what this movie could have done better to create some more roles and experiences for them. So everyone, stay with us as we continue this conversation just ahead. You're listening to Embodied from North Carolina Public Radio. It's a broadcast service of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

This is Embodied broadcasting from the American Tobacco Historic District. I'm Anita Rao. If you're looking for a movie with deaf and heard-of-hearing characters playing leading roles, well, you may come up with a short list. Hearing loss has been underrepresented in our media landscape or often misrepresented when it does appear. But the Oscar-nominated film "Sound of Metal" has renewed some of these conversations about representation. It tells a story of a heavy metal drummer who loses his hearing. We're talking today with three members of the deaf and hard of hearing community about what the film did well, and what could have been better. Here with me is Yat Li, creator of the YouTube channel "Let There Be Ears." Destiny Lopez, a multimedia storyteller, creative strategist and educator. And Amanda Murray, a filmmaker and the creator of RetroMurray productions.

Today's show can also be found as a visual broadcast on the WUNC Facebook page, where you can see some closed captioning. Be sure to add your voice to today's Embodied conversation. We are at EmbodiedWUNC on Twitter and Instagram. So we ended the last segment talking a bit about representation. And there were actors in the film that were completely deaf. Some that were hard of hearing. But the two lead roles were played by folks who were both hearing. So Destiny, I know you've spent a lot of time doing research on representation and thinking about Hollywood. So tell me a bit about kind of what portrayals there have been of hearing loss and deafness historically.

Destiny Lopez
Sure, yeah. So I've done a lot of research on like who is included, because ultimately, when you include more diversity of characters, you're obviously going to have a diversity of participation, diversity of mindset. You're going to get those different stories out there. I wrote an op-ed, specifically, the character that Tessa Thompson plays in Creed II where she is a partially deaf individual, and she's dating Creed. And that really resonated with me, because she was a young woman. She was about my age, you know, there's, there's a scene where she gets proposed to and she doesn't hear him, and I'm pretty sure it's probably gonna go the same for me if I'm not directly facing whoever asks me. So, you know, that was a portrayal. I think there was the show "Separated At Birth" that had a deaf portrayal. So they're, they're sporadic here and there. We also had "A Quiet Place," which was really awesome that the main character that was involved in that she was actually deaf, but we will see like the Tessa Thompson character, it is usually hearing people who are, you know, in those roles, and they're kind of taking on those different experiences rather than having lived them. So that is definitely a topic of conversation that's pretty big in the deaf community and should be in the mainstream community as well.

Anita Rao
Yeah, What did you make of how Riz Ahmed and Paul Raci played these characters as hearing actors ... How they played characters with hearing loss?

Destiny Lopez
Sure, I think I understood. I read an article that like the director was saying that he wanted specifically a hearing actor so that he can be thrust into this world of the unknown and have that raw emotion. So I do maybe understand the mindset of that, but I don't think it replaces having actually lived through that experience. So I think that Riz did a great job as far as portraying it. But did he actually understand like, the emotional trauma that some of us have gone through with that experience? I can't say for sure. And it was the same thing, even with like, Tessa Thompson, and I did write about that. Like, she did an awesome job demonstrating what I've gone through, like what I feel when I'm in a relationship or what I feel when I'm in a social situation. But when I'm speaking to her in person, I don't think she understands what that character means to me, because she's never been there herself. So I guess it's more of an emotional, like social aspect that needs to be touched on.

Anita Rao
Yeah. Yat, what about you ... thoughts about the portrayals as compared to other examples that you've seen of hearing loss portrayed by actors?

Yat Li
Yeah, you know, a great question. Obviously, I think Riz — when I got a chance to read some of his follow up interviews, you know, he really did try to give himself the best representation by turning the ASL community, deaf community. He took courses. He worked with other actors who were deaf, and to give himself the best representation on character on film. Obviously, it is incomparable to someone who's actually deaf or hard of hearing, because there's often represent misrepresentation on film. And it's also other people, you know, who have privilege or a right, take jobs away from from people who are misrepresented. And well, you know, this is like, while I mentioned earlier, a great huge first step, but more can be done to employ people who are deaf or hard of hearing for deaf and heard-of-hearing roles.

Anita Rao
Amanda as a filmmaker, what kind of opportunities are there for deaf and hard-of-hearing actors? Is it easy to find opportunities? Is it challenging?

Amanda Murray
Honestly, it's a little bit, I would say that it's a little bit easier than a lot of people in Hollywood argue. There are specific agencies for actors who have disabilities. And if you want an actor with a certain disability, all you have to do is contact these agencies, and say: Hey, I need someone with certain disabilities. And they have hundreds or even thousands of actors that they can refer to you. And so when filmmakers are arguing that: Oh, we couldn't find anyone who fits the bill, sadly. I don't think they're trying hard enough, because I haven't made a whole lot of movies, but even I know how easy it is to find exactly the kind of person that I need. I follow several different acting agencies that are specifically for employing disabled actors, models, singers into into more mainstream modes. And their purpose is to help increase the representation and in media. So I really don't think that it's that hard.

Anita Rao
I want to talk a little bit more about about the industry a little later in the conversation, but get back to some of the themes in the film now and play another clip. This is a clip from Sita Chandra, she has cochlear implants. And cochlear implants are a big plot point in this movie. Ruben, the main character, after losing his hearing becomes very invested in getting cochlear implants and really sees it as as a fix and something he's really gunning toward throughout a lot of the movie. So let's let's hear a little bit from Sita about her experience watching the film.

Sita Chandra
So I have congenital bilateral hearing loss. So I was super excited to watch the film. I appreciated how the cochlear implant activation scene unfolded. You see so many videos across social media of babies, children, adults getting activated, and there are tears streaming down their face, and they're so happy and blah, blah, blah. And I find it so misleading, because that's not always what activation day looks like. It's rather frustrating as you see with Ruben, you know he spent all this money to gain back the life he had before and turns out that is not the hearing he wanted. [Plays clip from the film during the cochlear implant activation scene]. There was also a very minor but important detail. He was trying to find the word to describe the hearing to the audiologist. But he couldn't. [Plays clip from film of Ruben's conversation with the audiologist] Like I felt that, you know, it's so difficult to explain it. And it's also such an emotional moment, because you have all these expectations in your head of how it's going to be, and when it doesn't happen. You're at a loss for words

Anita Rao
That's Sita from Fayetteville. I'm here with filmmaker Amanda Murray, multimedia, storyteller, Destiny Lopez, and youtuber and deaf and hard-of-hearing advocate Yat Li. So Yat, as Sita mentions in this clip, I do feel like there are so many portrayals of cochlear implants that really focus on this miracle moment seeing a baby's hearing their parents voice for the first time, so much so that I mean, I turned to my partner and said: It's going to get better than that, right? Because everyone says to him all the time, like you could just get a cochlear implant. So talk a bit about the representation of that. In this film. Yat, what stood out for you?

Yat Li
Yeah, you know, in the film, you know, obviously, there's only two hours to show the whole story. And I believe the activation for Ruben took about, you know, a couple minutes from getting money for, you know, insurance and finding money for the cochlear implant surgery, all the way to getting activated with the registered audiologist to struggling to hear all that happened within 10-15 minutes. And obviously, that is not the accurate representation of someone who is hard of hearing or deaf and goes through a activation process. Activation usually takes months and months. And that is because it takes time for your brain to learn the sounds again that you've lost or have never heard before. It takes time for you to adapt to hearing situations like the clang of your cups, the bang of the doors. You have to relearn that because if you had hearing before, and you're late deafness or have lost your hearing, that sound may be different because of your implant, or device, whatever that may be. So for myself who has gone through this type of surgery before — similar — while I don't wear an exact cochlear implant, I do wear a bone-anchored hearing aid that requires surgery. So I have an abutment. I recall before I got this hearing device, I thought I heard okay. I thought I heard well with the old device. But when I thought this implantation and the activation, I actually did not like it. I actually had to put away this hearing device for a good couple of months. And I was so frustrated by how noisy things were in the world. I heard leaves rustling and I'm like: What is this noise? I've never heard of this before. So I could definitely understand how upset and how nervous Ruben is. But in terms of representation, it takes months before you can adapt. And for myself, it took years.

Anita Rao
Destiny the audiologist scenes I know stood out for you, and the other one in particular, where he's getting his hearing tested. I think that that resonated for you. Tell me why?

Destiny Lopez
Yeah. Like I said, I discovered my hearing loss when I was a kid. So I was in first grade, you know, and I didn't really know what it meant that I couldn't hear, and I didn't like accept that I couldn't hear. Because you know you're born this way, it's like , well, that's how you're supposed to hear the world. You don't realize the difference. But one part in in particular, like it reminded me of when my mother came with me to the audiologist, and the audiologist had played. She's like. This is what the level you hear at. And then she lowered it tremendously, and she's like: This is what Destiny hears. And I just remember my mother's face kind of dropping. And then that was when it clicked for me like, oh, my, I am listening to a completely different world from everybody else. So I think that that's what ... you know, it did trigger those feelings that I felt for the first time where it's like, it's gonna take a lot of work. I just remember being a kid and being like: Oh, I'm gonna have to figure out how to deal with this. And I think that's a lot to take on when you're only like seven or eight years old. So it's definitely triggered those emotions in the beginning that I felt.

Anita Rao
I want to play one more clip from Sita now that I'm going to ask you to respond to Amanda. That gets at one of the other kind of central tensions around the process of the cochlear implant. Essentially, after Ruben gets it, he is ostracized from the deaf community that he was a part of. And it kind of presents this binary where you're either completely in the deaf world and deaf community, or if you get a cochlear implant, you're no longer a part of it anymore. And I'm curious, your take on that representation. So let's listen once more to Sita.

Sita Chandra
There was a point toward the end where there was a huge rigger for me. And that was the scene when Ruben secretly got his CI surgery, which is not always that effortless by the way. But he, you know, he goes back to the camp, and he tells Joe. That scene was hard, because I knew what the dialogue was going to be. And Joe ends up kicking Ruben out with something along the lines of "deafness is not something to be fixed." [Plays clip from film- scene where Joe and Ruben are talking] I was crying and crying, because it furthered proved that there is this unfortunate divide within the deaf community, and I find it so difficult to my immerse myself in. There is sort of a negative connotation towards cochlear implant in the deaf community. There's this mentality of: You are not one of us anymore, which is still far from the truth. It's a bunch of complicated feelings for me, because I've had my cochlear implant for 21 years, and it has brought me so much color and joy to my life. And I think it is hard for me to understand that not everyone feels that way. At the end of the day, we all want a place to belong. And while this is a film, it portrays the very lived experiences of so many deaf and hard-of-hearing people who are trying to understand where they belong. You know, is it the deaf community, but if I have a cochlear implant, am I part of that hearing community now? It's never ending and the film does a great job recognizing that.

Anita Rao
That's Sita in Fayetteville. I'm here with multimedia storyteller Destiny Lopez, YouTuber and deaf and hard-of-hearing advocate Yat Li and filmmaker Amanda Murray. You can also watch a visual broadcast of this on the WUNC Facebook page. So Amanda, tell me about that tension: either being a part of the deaf community or not and how cochlear implants are perceived.

Amanda Murray
So I said that before I was born deaf. I've never not been deaf. However I was raised orally. That means that from pretty much the time I was diagnosed as deaf, because I was born before the universal hearing test. So from the time I was diagnosed deaf up until middle school, I had lots of speech therapy. And I was not a part of the deaf community. So unfortunately I grew up feeling like my deafness was a handicap. It was a disability. It was something wrong with me. And I wanted it fixed. Hearing aids in the 90s weren't very powerful. So I could never hear very well even with them. And yet my deafness, my hearing, would constantly be overestimated. And it wasn't until I went to Gallaudet University that I really discovered my place in the deaf community. However, it was also at Gallaudet that I learned about this this sort of antagonization of cochlear implant, but also of hearing aids and bone-anchored hearing devices. And so, I kind of get why, because, you know, when they have this idea that if you if you get one of these devices to help you hear better, then you are rejecting the deaf community. I have literally been told to my bed by a deaf person that I wasn't deaf with capital D, because I had a hearing aid. And I was not fluent in sign language. And that really hurt. Because I also felt like I wasn't a hearing person either. And so before my time at Gallaudet, I felt like I was really sort of teeter tottering between the hearing world and the deaf world. And I can totally get that Ruben probably felt that way too, that he you know, he grew up in the hearing world, but suddenly he finds himself in the deaf world. And he doesn't really totally belong to either one. And so he finds himself sort of teeter tottering and trying to figure out, you know, where he fits in. I really do wish the deaf community would not antagonize the hearing devices so much. I admit that I when I was at Gallaudet, I loved being able to attend my classes and hang out with friends without having to wear a hearing aid. But unfortunately, until somehow the world learns sign language, it does feel necessary in the hearing world. And so I feel like having a hearing aid and knowing sign language helps me find that balance between two worlds.

Anita Rao
No, no, you're great. We just have to take a quick break. And I'm gonna pause, and we'll come right back to you after this quick break. So stay with us listening to Embodied. We'll be right back.

This is Embodied, I'm Anita Rao. Representation matters, which is why the Oscar-nominated film " Sound of Metal" gained attention last year for its representation of hearing loss and deaf characters. But an equally important conversation is happening parallel to the film about accessibility. Because while representation is one step, captioning and other visual representations of sound go a long way in making media accessible. Here to talk with me about "Sound of Metal" and media accessibility is Yat Li, creator of the YouTube channel "Let There Be Ears." Destiny Lopez, a multimedia storyteller, creative strategist and educator, and Amanda Murray, a filmmaker and the creator of RetroMurray productions. Today's show can also be found as a visual broadcast on the W UNC Facebook page. So Amanda, I just want to let you finish your thought you were talking about your experience at Gallaudet, which is a private university in DC that was founded for the education of deaf and hard-of-hearing folks.

Amanda Murray
Yes, it's the world's only liberal arts university for the deaf and hard of hearing. I was wrapping up. I was just trying to say that, you know, I really wish that, you know, both the hearing community could be more accepting of the deaf community, and the deaf community to be more accepting of the devices that many of us use to communicate with the hearing world. Because, you know, that separation, that divide, I think can really be harmful in many ways. Because it isolates us, especially the people who are born orally deaf as I am, you know, not being able to be a member of both worlds can can be really isolating.

Anita Rao
So umm, talking a bit about accessibility. We've spoken about representation and whether or not there are roles for hard of hearing and deaf folks, one of the things about this film is that it was created with the intention to be hard captioned, which means that captions, you can't turn them on and off. So if you went to see it in the theater, there would be captions for everyone now on streaming devices, I believe you can turn captions on and off. But Yat I'm curious if there was anything that stood out to you about the captioning in "Sound of Metal?"

Yat Li
Absolutely. I think captioning should be on all films and hard coded for every single movie. The chances of me watching a movie without captioning is zero. So I rely heavily on them. And there's been a study that shows that, you know, those who read captions can retain more information about film, so why not include them. That goes to show also for children who are learning in virtual webinars right now during the pandemic to our webinar today. It's important to include closed captioning for accessibility. Communication access is important, not only for those who are deaf or hard of hearing, but for everyone as well. And I think that needs to be the main point is that it benefits everyone, not just for a group or two groups or three, but everyone. And I just love the way that Darius Marder is taking this big step. And to be a huge advocate and be a pioneer for filmmakers to hardcode captioning and subtitles. It's going to go a long way. It already has. But kudos to Darius, and I just wish more filmmakers would do the same.

Anita Rao
Destiny, I'd love for you to talk more about the captioning process, because you've thought about how it could be done better. Right now it's really done as an afterthought — it's something that's done kind of outside of the creation of the film. You are encouraging more creative captioning. So tell me a bit about that and what that would look like.

Destiny Lopez
Yeah, definitely. Creative captioning is something that I'm really pushing for. I love it. And you can actually see that it's been done already without the intention for the deaf community, just people do it, because they do realize that it can add to a film. If you watch things like Sherlock Holmes with Benedict Cumberbatch, like sometimes his thoughts will show up on the screen. And then there's others. There's a show that was being developed with Open TV in Chicago, and they would, you know, add, whenever you get a text message, it might pop up on the screen. So rather than saying the text message, you can actually see that text message and read it. So we're already doing these things creatively. And I was just hoping that that could be expanded more and more so throughout the process of the development of the film, rather than as, like you said, a post-production afterthought. Usually when it is a post-production afterthought, it's done by like a tech person who may or may not have a hearing loss, usually they do not. The director isn't around to be like I needed this sound emphasized rather than that sound. So his or her image may not be accurate, or something may not be emphasized in the way that it needs to be. So if we were to take that process and start it from the beginning, not only do we the opportunity to get extra creative and to add to our film,, to add to the theme or the emotions that you want to feel, we will also probably save time, save money and then a more accurate portrayal of the original creator's intention.

Anita Rao
I love that, and I love the the creative examples you mentioned of how that can be done to make it more of a symbiotic process. As you're creating the visuals, think about creating the text to really describe and provide texture. Amanda did you ... So there were there are some signed conversations in the film. So Ruben the character goes to a rehab center where everyone is deaf or hard of hearing, and they all communicate through ASL. And so there are scenes of you watching him watch everyone speak before he's able to really be a part of those conversations. And then he slowly begins to learn and can participate. I'm curious what you thought about the representation of American Sign Language in the film. Amanda?

Amanda Murray
Um, so I, I felt like sign language was pretty accurate. The only thing that kind of really bothered me was that I noticed that sometimes sign language was cut off. So I could be signing down here, and it would be cut off. Meaning that they weren't putting an emphasis on making sure that we could see a sign language. It's great that, you know, that they made sure that the movie was captioned. But they could have really made it extra accessible if for anytime someone was signing, they had a waist to shoulder shot, so that we could really see the full sign language. And that would have ... That would have put more focus on the sign language and force people to really see: Oh, this is, you know, a big, beautiful language, and that we need to pay attention to it. And it also would have been helpful for some deaf people who might have been watching it. They can take a break from trying to read the captions and then actually look at the sign language. But every time I tried to watch the sign language, you know, sometimes I could see it all and sometimes I couldn't. And I did I find that a bit frustrating.

Anita Rao
That's interesting you mentioned that because one of the critiques I read they also mentioned that there was a lot of use of kind of blurring the background, and so you would be really focused in on Ruben and the ASL would be blurred in the background, so you couldn't really read it or experience it fully. So Yat, I would love to shift a little bit here to talk about music. Obviously, music is a big part of this film. Ruben is a heavy metal drummer. He has a passion for music. And his big fear when he loses his hearing is that that can no longer be a part of his life until he gets the surgery. And there are various ways the film plays with him experimenting with developing a new relationship with music. There's a scene where he and a deaf kid are both on either sides of a metal slide and both kind of feeling the vibrations of the slide. How did you feel about how music was portrayed? And was it accurate in terms of the role that music can play in the lives of people who are deaf and hard of hearing?

Yat Li
Yeah, I think, you know, vibration is very important. Vibrations and also using of lighting is very important for people who are deaf and hard of hearing. Oftentimes, when we want to get someone's attention, we would tap our feet with someone who is deaf, so we can get their attention. Music is represented very similarly in the movie in the film, as well, as we see Ruben and the child by the drums. They were trying to understand the beat and just for Ruben to teach the other kid, you know, his drumming attempts and such. So, you know, I felt that the representation was good. I also felt that when I first was kind of watching the movie, I thought it was really loud. And I felt it was a really good contrast of how the film continued and how it ended of how quiet it was. And you know, at the beginning of it, I was like: This is so loud. I'm not sure if I like this. It is, right? But it was Darius's s skills and techniques to really pull you in, to really, you know, invoke that emotion. And I think he did a really great job. And I think you know the representation is right on.

Anita Rao
Yeah, I am not a heavy metal fan. So at the beginning, I was like: Am I going to be able to finish this film? It is so loud and the music is so intense! Destiny, do you feel like this film accomplished the goal of being a film made for both a hearing audience and an audience that is deaf and hard of hearing? Or do you feel like it's, it's actually catered more towards one or the other?

Destiny Lopez
Yeah somebody else asked me this question. And I will say that I lean towards the latter. I think that although it's a great representation of our community, I do believe that the setup of it was to be experienced by hearing viewers, because while I was watching it, I did, like the captions did a great job of portraying, you know, one sound might be muffled or one sound might be loud. But regardless of how the captions portrayed it, I cannot hear what the difference was in the sound experimentation, because I'm deaf. You know what I mean? That's the end of it. But there are like, I did recommend the film to like my hearing friends and family, so that they could get a better idea of how I hear in comparison to what they hear. So while it wasn't made for me, I do appreciate that it was sort of this new resource of allyship that I could share with other people. So while it was for the hearing audience, I'm okay with that, because of what it will add to my experience.

Anita Rao
That's really interesting. Amanda, do you feel like there are other films out there that are created more with the deaf and hard-of-hearing community in mind like this is going to be a viewing experience that they will really connect with?

Amanda Murray
Yeah, actually, there's a film company called ASL Films that makes movies specifically for the deaf community. They, every dialogue in their movies are completely in sign language. They have captions. And there's no, there's no sound in those movies. And so those movies are specifically created for deaf people. Most of the community don't really know about those movies, or about that film company, because you know, it is a niche audience admittedly. But honestly, I often recommend those movies made by ASL Films to hearing people because without the sound and with the sign language, it actually can give a relatively good look into what life as a deaf person is really like. There's no sound. Everybody's communicating through sign language. There's a lot of body movement. And so, you know, but movies made by Hollywood, though, I wouldn't say yet that there any movies that have really been made with deaf people in mind. There have been some movies that are a little bit better than others at representation. But made for deaf people? No, not really.

Anita Rao
Destiny, in addition to creative captioning, are there things that you're hoping that Hollywood takes on or embraces to begin to build that bridge to make content that is more accessible?

Destiny Lopez
Sure, yeah. In my research I came up with two other ways in addition to creative captioning. So one we already talked about I talked about, which is including more deaf people, you know, if you start casting more deaf and hard of hearing people to portray their own stories. So that means not just giving an acting position to somebody who is hard of hearing, but actually allowing that person to be hard of hearing on screen, that will allow for that story to be told and to be fully represented, and to start conversations in communities about people who might know other deaf people or not. And then another way, a fun way that I kind of picked up while I was watching Fleabag, on Amazon Prime, she breaks the third wall, which is basically in acting it's like, you know, that wall between the camera and the actual actor. So rather than just speaking her mind out loud, she faces the camera directly as if the third person is there. And she talks directly in the vision of the camera. And what that allows for is lip reading by the heart of hearing audiences. And again, it adds this other extra creative component, you know, like there's a scene where she is, you know, being intimate with a man. And usually you don't hear what the person is thinking in their mind while they're doing that. Because you have that third wall, she was able to say all of her thoughts, and it made hilarious. So it adds the extra opportunity, in addition to making the film or the television show more accessible.

Anita Rao
I love that. And yeah, there are so many moments in "Fleabag" where you really notice that creativity, and I've never thought about it also being accessible, but serving that dual function is pretty amazing. So we only have about a minute left Yat, so I'd love to just close with any ... I guess any final takeaways that you, you know, Destiny mentioned that allyship. That this could be a way that folks in the hearing community could watch and experience and maybe have a little bit more nuance in their perceptions of what it's like to be deaf and hard of hearing. Is there any final takeaway that you hope audiences will come away with with this film?

Yat Li
I think this movie, film is a bridge for all communities and for everyone, not just for people who are deaf or hard of hearing or hearing abled as well. But it serves as a purpose to unite everyone together to experience something that is challenging for a group of people and experienced the diversity and inclusion and equity. We see how important equity is in this film to ensure that people get the right surgery they require or to wear their hearing. So I think this film does a really great job. And I encourage you if you haven't watched it yet, go ahead and watch the movie and review as well.

Anita Rao
You still have some time before the Oscars to watch it and cast your vote. "Sound of Metal" I believe is streaming on Amazon Prime right now. Thanks so much to all of you who joined us today. Yat Li, creator of the YouTube channel "Let There Be Ears." Destiny Lopez, a multimedia storyteller, creative strategist and educator and Amanda Murray, a filmmaker and the creator of RetroMurray productions. Thanks so much to all of you.

Yat Li, Amanda Murray, Destiny Lopez
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Anita Rao
Embodied is a production of North Carolina Public Radio WUNC. Join us next week for another show and find our podcast wherever you get your podcasts. I'm Anita Rao taking on the taboo with you.