My Song is a coming of age story starring Lara Steward, which follows Ellen, a young deaf girl stuck in the middle of the deaf and hearing worlds. Scripted by Charlie Swinbourne and directed by William Mager, DAO writer Richard Downes examines the themes of inclusion and exclusion and finds parallels from his own experience.
There was once a wheelchair using Lord
Who upon a plane couldn't board
I know it sounds bad
He implied I was mad
So his access was rightfully ignored
I was reminded of this piece of personal history when reflecting on My Song, currently available on the British Sign Language Braodcasting Trust's website. My Song is a subtle, sensitive, treatment dealing with the personal growth of a young woman, Ellen who has partial hearing and whose interests range from boys, music, ambition, Facebook and glamour.
The questions these interests raise for Ellen include where and when is she most likely to have her needs met. Ellen lives with her hearing family. Her young brother is amused by her need to sign and insults her by swinging his arms around his head. He exploits her partial hearing by creeping up on her and posting sneaky photographs on Facebook. Her mother tries but fundamentally fails to recognise that needs are not being met and becomes part of the problem in seeking to minimise them. This stress is bought home to the family by Mom's new boyfriend. Scottish (accents are hard to detect), bearded, prone to mumbling and holding his hands in front of his mouth.
As for school life... inclusion has costs here too. You are seen as others see you. In with the in-crowd and described as normal or else out with the freaks. I'm no expert, but this demonstrates the subtlety on display here, but what of a school friend's question; "How do you swear in sign?" I'm willing to bet that it’s very close to the gesticulations I might use as a hearing person. Charlie's writing is honourable here. He does not want to make it too easy for viewers. There are no pat answers, no sensible solutions. Only clues to see. The art remains between the visual sense and the answers you form for yourself.
From small questions to big issues. If you cannot fit in with the hearing world is there hope for you in the Deaf world. I wasn't called mad by the ‘most honourable’ described in the limerick above, but I was called a fanatic for asking for a Braille version of a bulletin that I found useful. Culturally the word meant or implied the same thing way back then.
Comedian Steve Day, makes much of the big D for Deaf, little d for deaf thing in his act. Because Steve had raised it I knew where Charlie was coming from on this. Does the degree of deafness matter? Should you be excluded because you know the signs but not the grammar? Should you be attacked for not going far enough when you have only just started, when you really did want to find acceptance in a crowd defined and proud of linguistic difference? Charlie fails to answer these questions. He lets Ellen stay in her excluded state but in raising the question he demonstrates humanity and leaves everyone living with hope.
When the Lord made his statement in letter form I was finding my way in the disability movement. I met some very strong activists and would support them as far as I wanted to. I also met strong activists with friendly faces who whilst being hard-line politically where never hard line with me. Who were willing to give me a chance, who really wanted to include me. I am now at a point where I can grant time to both types but I know which ones I’ll have dinner and a drink with too. Today I am thinking about women who felt a colleague was excluded on the basis of his impairment by others with different impairments. The experience resulted in accusations about a disability hierarchy, status by impairment, superiority by sexier differences. Hence, brothers and sisters I present you with an idea for Cuddle Day http://detrich.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/join-the-idea-behind-cuddle-day/
But enough about me (I'm lovely). Back to My Song - at last, given the amount of criticism DAO engenders towards film about disability - a kind, sensitive, intelligent programme on deaf and disability issues, which provokes thought, raises memories and asks the viewers to take part in finding a lasting answer for us all. Thank you for the writing, to the cast for dealing with the script appropriately and to the film-makers for their skills in making this very enjoyable indeed. I'm sure that somewhere between the original idea, making the film and getting it shown on the media there is a story of inclusion, which we should celebrate. Maybe it takes a deaf writer to find the key that opens our worlds to society. Nice one.
My Song will be shown at Deaffest http://www.deaffest.co.uk at 7.45 on Friday 20th May