Hannah Michelle Bussa
In two and a half hours split over eight episodes, Netflix’s new show “Deaf U” is a history-making window into the Deaf community. It was filmed in October 2019, following a small group of students at Gallaudet University, a private university in D.C. for primarily the Deaf and hard of hearing.
“I’m thrilled that this is the first reality TV show into the mainstream that is entirely made up by Deaf cast members,” Renate Rose, one of the cast members, said. “This is history in the making, and I’m extremely honored to be part of this. I don’t believe we represent every Deaf story, but we are a representation of how Deaf people are people with their own lives, goals and stories.”
Throughout the show, different Deaf experiences are shown. For example, Rodney Burford – another cast member – is shown with a cochlear implant.
“A cochlear implant is a hearing device that requires surgery. And my parents made that decision when I was 2 years old,” Burford said. “They wanted to provide more options for me.”
Although many of the cast members like Rose went to Deaf high schools, Daequan Taylor is from the hearing culture.
“I don’t always sign, I talk,” Taylor said. “My first language is Spoken English, so when I was around campus, if another student was able to hear and voice, we would voice instead of signing.”
However, cast member Cheyenna Clearbrook faced bullying on behalf of the Deaf “elite,” as they are called in the show. At one point, she even asked, “Am I not Deaf enough?,” which was shown in the trailer. She discussed this more on her YouTube channel as well. This statement received mixed responses.
Clearbrook said: “‘Am I not Deaf enough?’ is the statement that can become a trope, especially when it is towards the marginalized community, which I recently learned about and am taking accountability for that part of using the statement. Yet my feelings are still valid and will always be. At the moment, it was how I felt, but at this time I don’t, and I am moving forward with a new mindset. I had a great experience on this show and the producers were respectful, which I highly appreciated.”
One of the biggest criticisms of the show has been the lack of any women of color in the cast.
“I saw these criticisms, and they’re extremely valid,” Rose said. “I agree that there should be a Black woman in the main cast. I still don’t have any idea who applied to be part of this show.”
Gallaudet University held a livestream event with executive producer Nyle DiMarco addressing the criticism. They explained only a handful of women of color applied, who weren’t connected to the cast, so they didn’t want to just have a token woman of color either. If the show gets a second season, increasing diversity will be a primary goal.
LGBTQ representation was shown briefly this season, with Rose and her girlfriend.
“I’m lucky to be able to date a woman openly and not be judged,” Rose said. “My social circles are very accepting of LGBTQ+ and having their support makes me feel like I can be with whoever I’m in love with.”
Rose also opened the world up to a session of her therapy, bringing the cameras with her into one.
“I wanted to share a counseling session to normalize the experience of going to a therapist,” she said.
Despite the hiccups of captions not always being accurate, some debated editing choices and not having content warnings for a scene mentioning child sexual assault.
“Deaf U” is a must-watch show. It gives hearing people a look into the experiences of Deaf people, as well as providing the Deaf community with rare, yet necessary representation on screen.
“I feel this show shows the real Gallaudet and how we are,” Taylor said. “Deaf people aren’t dumb or stupid. They are human, but just can’t hear.”
“It is important that people know that I am representing myself as a deaf person navigating through both worlds,” Burford said.
“People will see this show as raw and authentic,” Clearbrook added.
Overall, “Deaf U” shows a small group of college students navigating life, love and the world as Deaf individuals and it should be shared with the world.
Updates on the cast:
Renate Rose can be found on Instagram @renate.rose. She has graduated from Gallaudet with bachelor’s degrees in both International Studies and Government with a specialization in Law and a minor in Communication Studies. She is still based in D.C., working on a master’s program in mass communication with an option in leadership online through Eastern Illinois University.
Cheyenna Clearbrook is on Instagram @cheyennaclearbrook. As shown on the show, she left Gallaudet. She transferred to Washington State University, where she is about to graduate. She is currently focused on enjoying what is in front of her.
Daequan Taylor can be found on Instagram @d_taylor14. He graduated from Gallaudet with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education and Recreation. Due to the pandemic, he is currently living in Indiana.
Rodney Burford is on Instagram @boobie_burford. He is still studying at Gallaudet, and he plans on continuing his football career.
Other cast members can be found on Deaf U’s Instagram, @deafu_netflix.