Feb 2018 HearingLikeMe.com
“This Close,” the first Hollywood TV series to have deaf writers, producers and creators, is setting a bar for future shows to reach in terms of representation. The show is breaking the mould for mainstream TV, by having deaf actors, but not focusing on that part of their identity. While showing a wholesome perspective on the life of a deaf or hard of hearing the person, it expands a commonly narrow perspective by allowing the actors to have complex identities. That in itself a huge step in spreading deaf and hard of hearing awareness. After each episode of This Close, there is an additional discussion episode called, “Now The Discussion: This Close“. The participants in these discussion episodes are actors, Josh Castille, Michael Litchfield, and Karma McCain. These discussion episodes are meant for debriefing and talking about the important parts of the show.
Deaf actor Josh Castille, one of the participants in “Now The Discussion: This Close” episode one, used the perfect words to describe this show, referring to it as having a “deafness filter,” slightly touching the topic, rather than fully focusing on it. “I think it’s a beautiful filter, ” Castille says, in the episode. What does he mean by a deafness filter? The series accurately shows situations deaf people face, such as what it actually sounds like to have a hearing loss (it’s not just silence), communication barriers in relationships, serious situations, such as on the plane or with law enforcement, and lack of accessibility, such as having an unqualified interpreter. While these are all important issues to bring awareness to, these issues don’t make up the whole lives of deaf people. After watching the first two episodes, I found that it’s not the fact that the characters are deaf that makes them so relatable to someone with hearing loss. Rather, it’s the fact that their deafness is just one part of their identity. The viewer is taken through their daily lives where we see their relationships, careers, and friendships, along with the miscommunications, misconceptions, and struggles of dealing with “hearing privilege.” By doing this, the show gets a deeper layer of a relatable storyline. Writer, creator and producer of the show, Shoshannah Stern, explains this “I think once you focus on misconceptions, the story becomes very specific,” she says. “And then it’s very easy for characters to become one-dimensional. People are very rarely just one thing, and we didn’t want to create characters that didn’t feel like people.” Stern brings up a beautiful way of looking at our diverse world. “I don’t think there’s such a thing as a hearing world or a deaf world or a man’s world versus a woman’s world,” she says. “There’s one world, we just have different ways of looking at it. So with this show, we wanted to show the same world we’re all familiar with but from a different way of looking at it.” Deafness is not the whole story, but it is amazing to see it accurately represented.
Representation, says Josh Feldman, the other writer, creator, and producer of the show, is the reason why he worked on the show. He joined in “Now The Discussion: This Close” episode 1, explaining his work. “I feel like everyone in this world should be able to see themselves on TV or in movies, everyone, no matter what you look like, no matter who you love, that you have to be able to see yourself,” he says. “And I know for me as a Deaf, gay man, growing up I never saw myself on the screen. And that definitely impacted how I lived my life for a long time because I couldn’t see myself in TV or in movies. That’s why this project is so important to me.”
“This Close” is bringing to light the diversity that is painfully missing from television and movie media. Not only is the show bringing it through its episodes, but also through the discussion episodes that take place afterward. Talking about what we are seeing in this show is important in order to spread awareness about being deaf or hard of hearing and its representation in the media.