Reunite the Community in The Fight Against Hollywood

EDITED: This article has been updated for accuracy, at the request of Convo Communications.

By Mary Pat Luetke-Stahlman

In 2015, The Deaf Report wrote an article, called “DeafTalent is No Joke,” about the hashtag #DeafTalent that had created a storm on Twitter - the hashtag itself was a response to hearing actors/actresses being assigned roles that are best suited for Deaf actors/actresses. The movement was not only focused on actors/actresses - directors and writers were included as well. A year ago this month, Convo “hat tipped” Jules Dameron in a video where Dameron spoke about why she coined #DeafTalent. After the video release, Maisha Franklin Safford called Convo out for not recognizing the movement behind the hashtags #POCDeafTalent and #BlackDeafTalent by Jade Bryan, a Black Deaf female filmmaker.

Dameron emphasized in the video that she believes that the hashtag #DeafTalent is a resource for anybody. Black and POC Deaf community members from the Black Deaf Progressive Group and the Black ASL Group initiated an open letter to Convo where they stated their concerns about the video content, imploring Convo to think about the fact that they did not provide them an equal opportunity of having a voice in this movement. (Click here to read the open letter.)

“We are surprised that Convo has given much pride and acknowledgment to the members of their own community but have failed to show appreciation for diversity. For example, Convo has failed to ask the Black Deaf and Deaf People of Color communit[ies] for input/information regarding the movement, struggles, and accomplishments of Black Deaf and Deaf People of Color Actors, Producers, and Filmmakers so that this population can also be rightfully and equally recognized as their peers of non-color." (Open Letter to Convo)

Four months prior to their showcase of Dameron’s #DeafTalent movement, Convo released an ad of their Deaf Ecosystem Directory and used the hashtag #DeafTalent. According to Leila Hanaumi, the Director of Brand Communications at Convo, “we initiated a dialogue with those involved and made amendments” after the open letter.

The Black Deaf Progressive Group and the Black ASL Group jointly posted a follow-up video (shown below) in which they recognized Convo for their efforts in working with them, with Maisha Franklin Safford signing:

"Convo listened. Convo opened a dialogue with us by reaching us out through email, text, and Facebook. Convo did three things: Listen to us, Convo made revisions at #DEAFTALENT spotlight and gave proper credit to Jade Bryan for starting #POCDEAFTALENT and #BLACKDEAFTALENT Movement. Third, Convo shared a post from Ai-Media on its spotlight of Jade Bryan on how she started the movement of #POCDEAFTALENT and #BLACKDEAFTALENT… Convo is one of a few companies that is willing to step up, talk to us, and made changes for the better. Black Deaf Progressive Group and Black ASL group with full support from Jade Bryan who couldn't be with us at this moment including our supporters want to express our deepest gratitude to Convo for trying to make the change for Better. And Convo did make the change for the better."

Members of our community are emphasizing the importance of recognizing Black and POC Deaf Talent as being on equal ground as Deaf Talent. While mainstream society should not ignore the skills of Deaf professionals who are White, it has to be said that Black and POC Deaf professionals faces far more obstacles and discrimination than their counterparts--both in the hearing and Deaf worlds. Steph Kent points this out in her latest post on Facebook targeting Convo and their “Whiteness problem”:

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Rossana Reis also contributed her perspective when sharing Bryan’s June 2018 vlog:

“Here’s Jade Bryan, the Black Deaf Filmmaker, that started #BlackDeafTalent and #POCDeafTalent movement in 2012 after being tired of not seeing people like themselves on screen. Then white Deaf folks hijacked this movement by co-opting and erasing Black and Brown Deaf folks in #DeafTalent in 2015. Please join me in giving credit where it’s due and support [the] production of her films.” (Rossana Reis)

Two months ago in April, Adrienne Gravish Brown made an Instagram post under the handle @AquafarE that highlighted White supremacy as the true issue behind the discrepancies in hiring outcomes for Deaf people who identify as Black or POC.

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Fighting for recognition in Hollywood is an all-inclusive issue for actors, actresses, directors, and writers of all races and ethnicities. Everybody is being asked to unite together in sending this message loud and clear: the entertainment industry in Hollywood and beyond needs to stop marginalizing Black, Indigenous, and other POC people who are Deaf, as well as skilled Deaf White professionals. All organizations with a major following on social media need to be held accountable if and when they do not recognize Black and POC Deaf professionals for their talent as much as they do with White Deaf professionals.