Documentary sheds light on deaf culture and access to live entertainment

The film features big names like Kelly Clarkson and DL Hughley. Rapper Waka Flocka Flame is the executive producer. Cat worked on the film for seven years. “Sign the Show” is screened during the United Nations Association Film Festival. To see in San Francisco at the Roxy Theater on Wednesday, October 26 at 9 p.m.

This interview was produced by Porfirio Rangel and edited by Chris Egusa and Gabe Grabin.

Interview transcript

Jenee Darden: Cat, welcome.

Cat brewer: Hi. Thanks. Thank you for.

Jenee Darden: It’s a very good idea for a movie. What inspired this film?

Cat brewer: I’ve been going to concerts since I was eight years old. In 2014, I saw a performer in a show for the first time. So I had been going there for over 35 years and had never seen an interpreter. And so I started talking with the performer, and then communicating with the deaf people who were at the concert through the performer, and I was completely unaware. I hadn’t realized that deaf people liked music, much less liked going to a live performance. But I was educated and found that yes, just like hearing people, they do, but they face many challenges and barriers to accessing entertainment.

So I decided to write an article for the newspapers of the college where I taught, including three in the Bay Area. And then a friend of mine said to me, “It looks like a documentary. You should make a documentary. And I said, okay.

Jenee Darden: Why is there a lack of performers in concerts and concert halls, especially where artists, you know, I think like big name artists, have the money to pay for performers?

Cat brewer: It’s true. I think this is a multi-level question and answer. So there is a very long history of oppression of the deaf and hard of hearing community, and they represent a population of over 40 million people in the United States alone. And they have been oppressed and marginalized for centuries.

And so I think as hearing people we just don’t realize that they’re left out, unless you have someone in your family or someone in your circle of friends that you know . And it was my case. I had no one around me. I didn’t know anyone personally before I started creating this film.

I think the smaller venues don’t understand, or maybe they understand because I’ve discussed it with them, that if an interpreter is requested, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an interpreter must be provided. There must be a means of communication, a means of accessibility planned.

But I think a lot of sites think it’s just about the money. Like, oh, we can’t afford it. But there are tax deductions for companies and organizations that provide it. And I would agree with you and I think André 3000 would agree with you because he says that in the movie

Jenee Darden: from Outkast, one of my favorite hip-hop groups.

Cat brewer: Yes. He says, you know, this should be normal. It should be a standard. Just as if artists have speakers in their jumper, they should put performers in their jumper.

Jenee Darden: What is the rider?

Cat brewer: So artists usually have a jumper they work with. Like, oh, such a group only wants yellow M&Ms in their dressing room. So he’s a rider. It’s like, what does the artist want? What do they need? How many speakers on stage? What is their lighting like, what food do they want, what accommodations, and could they add performers as the type of accessibility do they want their audience to have.

Jenee Darden: Did your film explore diversity? I know within deaf communities of color they may use different signs, as if it’s their slang. If that’s the right word to use. And I was reading an article about, maybe it was in your movie, about a white performer who felt uncomfortable signing the N-word at a rap concert.

So what’s up with that? Are there enough interpreters of color?

Cat brewer: No.

Jenee Darden: Is there a push for more performers of color?

Cat brewer: Yes absolutely. There are many different nuances to this. There are certainly not as many colored performers as there are white performers. White performers may not represent an artist well.

Uh, mostly I think that example was given by a performer of color named Odie Ashford, who lives in the Bay Area. She signed for Tony! Tony! Your! for about a year I followed them everywhere. And yes, I rightly think a white interpreter would struggle to sign the N-word.

And it’s a tricky situation because as an interpreter you’re ethically bound to be able to interpret exactly what’s being said. If not, then you are censoring the information provided to the deaf and hard of hearing community. So there are a lot of different shades. There are definitely not enough performers of color.

It’s a very, very small percentage. And I mean, it’s a viable career, it’s a great career if people are interested in it. And it certainly can’t hurt. There are also even fewer color deaf performers and, uh, Matt Maxey is a great example of that. He is a role model for so many people. Mostly, we were just at the California School for the Deaf in Fremont, and the kids knew him.

It’s a K-12 school, and the kids there were just impressed to see someone who looked like them, a person of color, who was deaf, who in the media was doing well and breaking barriers and breaking down stereotypes of what it means to be deaf and what it means to be a deaf person of color.

Uh, and there are different signs. You talk about it too. There are as many different sign languages ​​as there are languages ​​in the world. My film touches on that briefly and talks about Black American Sign Language. Schools were separate – blacks and whites. And so the same with schools for the deaf.

Black students and white students were separated and black students created their own language. And when schools are integrated, it’s as if two different languages ​​come together.

Jenee Darden: Did you, did you encounter any obstacles, making this movie or even just trying to get into this community and cover this issue?

Cat brewer: Yes. Absolutely. There are people who have used the term “cultural appropriation”. Uh, you know, “Why are you making this movie? You’re not part of our community. You don’t have anyone in your life who is part of this community. Why are you doing this?” And for me, I came from the perspective that I was a communications teacher for 22 years.

And that was just another form of communication. This movie was another platform for me to teach and educate people, and I tried my best not to be in the movie at all. There are a few times you hear my voice when I do an interview that my editor decided to put in there. But for the most part it’s someone else’s story and I was just the vehicle to get the message across.

So when I go to film festivals I usually always and I invite people who were in my film to be there with me, to represent, to talk about the issues because they can talk about those issues well better than me.

Jenee Darden: And for us in the hearing community, what can we do? What have deaf people told you, what could we do to help?

Cat brewer: Help facilitate access?

There are ways to help get an interpreter if needed. A hearing person can’t just call a room and say, “Hey, I want an interpreter for tonight. It’s unethical and I think it’s illegal to do it unless there’s a real need. So one way is to become more educated, to learn more about the history of the deaf and hard of hearing community to better understand what their challenges are.

You can learn sign language. Even if it’s just learning the alphabet. This gives you a better channel of communication with this community.

Robert M. Larson