Sign Language Is a Superpower.

Coby McDonald writes about a new film by a deaf director, Emilio Insolera:

On April 13th, Insolera’s first feature film, Sign Gene, will make its United States debut at the Laemmle Theater on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. The plot centers on an international band of deaf people, who, thanks to a genetic mutation, can channel superpowers through their use of sign language. The independent film is a fast-paced, genre-bending romp, shot on three continents with a cast made up entirely of deaf actors and CODAs (meaning children of deaf adults). Insolera has created the movie for both deaf and hearing audiences, and says he hopes that hearing audiences will come away from it with a broadened understanding of the richness of deaf language and experience. […]

While in school, Insolera conceived of the idea of deaf superheroes who derived powers from sign language. The idea was rooted in research showing that sign language can actually boost certain mental functions, such as facial recognition and processing spatial information.

“Of course the film is a bit fantastical,” Bauman says, “but sign language does have power in a very literal cognitive sense.” […]

Sign Gene is replete with coded references to a history and culture that most hearing people know nothing about. Q.I.A. stands for QuinPar Intelligence Agency, and QuinPar refers to the five phonological components in sign language linguistics that form signs: handshape, movement, location, orientation, and non-manual signals. Agent Tom Clerc shares the surname of a famous figure in deaf history, Laurent Clerc, a deaf educator who brought sign language to the U.S. And is a reference to the Second International Congress on Deaf Education, which took place in Milan, Italy, in 1880. It was there that educators codified their recommendation to eliminate sign language from deaf education.

Hearing viewers of Sign Gene are likely to feel like they’re being dropped into the deep end of the pool. But Insolera—who writes, directs, and stars in the film—is OK with that. He hopes the experience of auditory and visual disorientation will give hearing people a window into the deaf experience.

Sounds well worth seeing, and I’m glad it managed to get made. Thanks, Trevor!

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