‘Deaf U’ review: a quiet show making a loud impression

8 mins read

The majority of mainstream representations of deaf people are one dimensional. This is a criticism. However, eyes are being opened by Netflix’s latest reality show ‘Deaf U’ which follows the deaf and hard of hearing students of Gallaudet University for a semester.

Buckle yourselves in, because executive producer Nyle DiMarco, is taking you on a ride.

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Everyone knows the first episode has to be a good hook in a series. Luckily, Deaf U is a quick and easy to follow series with only eight episodes lasting around 20 minutes. It doesn’t seem like enough to learn or know anything about Gallaudet’s finest.

And that’s your first mistake; it’s surprisingly more than enough.

All it took was the first episode to have me glued to my screen. I was immediately engaged in a culture I didn’t even know of; deaf culture. I suppose that’s the important aspect of the series, to raise more awareness and demand more inclusivity.

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It was the first time I personally felt as if I were seeing deaf students. We all know what American college looks like, that has plenty of representation. However, Gallaudet has an identity of its own. It’s not only a liberal arts college for deaf and hard of hearing people; it’s a whole close-knit community.

These students live a lot differently. The series invites watchers to understand deaf culture through an unscripted journey through their lives. Some who are social media influences, some who are exploring their sexuality and some who are just very horny.

Here, we have it all; the gossip, the drama and most importantly; the college experience.

Although, it wouldn’t be a true college experience without a hierarchy. Gallaudet is no different in the aspect of having the popular ones regarded humbly as “The Elites”. These are the individuals who come from long lines of deaf families, attend deaf high schools, and learn ASL as their first language.

 Now at first glance, they’re like your typical mean girls’ clique. They’re quick to judge other deaf and hard of hearing people. Perhaps they criticise too harshly, and they gossip too much. However, the more episodes you watch, the more it becomes obvious that the “Elite” and highly concerned with preserving deaf culture.

Something that is broadly portrayed within the season. Viewers are welcomed to see the daily lives of deaf people. We learn what it is to be ‘deaf-friendly’ as we watch Cheyenna Clearbrook, our kind and accepting social media influencer, and Renata Rose, our sexually explorable poet, dine together.

Hearing people would never see a bottle of water placed between us as an issue. We wouldn’t. But for the deaf and hard of hearing community, to communicate, they have to see each other. It’s the same revelation when the cast all go out together, and they have to move a couch, so the environment is more “deaf-friendly”.

Chill, this was in a post-Covid world.

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I feel like I learned a lot from the series. I’m not normally a reality television fan, however, the way Deaf U was filmed differs from anything I’ve watched. It was like documentary and reality tv had a tussle in the sheets and Deaf U was born.

The documentary side of the show allows audiences deep explanations, exploring the world of deafness. Whereas the reality side represents the personalities of the students we’re watching; making for a praise-worthy balance.

After all, what is learning without a little fun?

And these guys have fun. We get to watch the inner-workings of relationships within such a small community. Namely, through the experience of Alexa Paulay-Simmons, who has many romantic experiences with others within the community.

And honestly, we love to see it.

However, it’s not always fun and games. Especially when Alexa confronts a previous fling, Daequan Taylor, for purposely getting her pregnant. Daequan is a player on the college football team and is partially deaf. He’s one of the very first faces we see in the series.

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See, this series takes a more serious note at times too. Lightly dancing around toxic masculinity and the personal lives of the cast. It’s a very human show if anything. We get to know these individuals not as ‘deaf people’ but as those who have lives and need more representation.

Which brings me to my one issue with the show; diversity. There is an unfortunate lack of black women and people of colour portrayed. It would also have been interesting to see the inner-workings of a classroom setting.

Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing the romance, the socialising and whatnot. However, I’d like to see the academic aspect, even if just to satisfy my nosey cravings. I’d like to see how these young people are in a classroom, to see more parts of who they communicate with each other in comparison to hearing people.  

After all, this is a whole other community hearing people likely don’t know of. We learn how hard of hearing people struggle with finding their place in both the hearing world and the deaf world. Where in one they’re considered disabled and in another they’re not regarded as being deaf enough.

It’s intricate, it’s exceptionally portrayed, and it’s deep.

It’s a show everyone should take the time to watch. I know it’s made an impact on me; it makes me angry at myself. Because I should have known so many things I learned during that show. Watch it yourself, and you’ll see what I mean.

Deaf U illustrates that you can be deaf and still be confused about life. Its representation is truly breaking the mould on the deaf community and asks one thing; do more. I’m already eagerly waiting for the second season; I need to see what these students next moves are.

Featured image credit: Hollywoodreporter.com

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