Main menu


Documentary spotlights deaf culture and live entertainment access

featured image

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 screening during the United Nations Association Film Festival. See it in San Francisco at the Roxy Theater on Wednesday, October 26th at 9pm.

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

Transcript of the interview

Jenee Darden: Cat, welcome.

Cat Brewer: Hi. Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Jenee Darden: This is a really great idea of ​​a film. What inspired this film?

Cat Brewer: I have been attending concerts since I was eight years old. In 2014 I saw an interpreter at a show for the very first time. So I’d been going for 35-plus years and had never seen an interpreter. And so I started talking with the interpreter and then communicating with the deaf people that were at the concert through the interpreter, and I was completely ignorant. I didn’t realize that deaf people loved music, let alone enjoyed going to a live performance. But I was educated and found out that yes, just like hearing people, they do, but that they face a lot of challenges and barriers to getting access to entertainment.

So I decided I was going to write an article for the college newspapers where I taught, three of them in the Bay Area. And then a friend of mine said,”This sounds like a documentary. You should make a documentary.” And I said, okay.

Jenee Darden: Why is there a lack of interpreters at concerts and live venues, especially where artists, you know, I’m thinking like big name artists, have the money to, to pay interpreters?

Cat Brewer: That’s right. I think this is a multilayered kind of question and answer. So there is a really long history of oppression of the deaf and hard of hearing community, and they are a population of 40 -plus million alone in the US And they have been oppressed and marginalized for centuries.

And so I think that as hearing people, we just don’t realize that they’re being excluded, unless you have someone in your family or someone in your circle of friends that you know. And that was my case. I didn’t have anyone in my circle. I didn’t know anyone personally until I started creating this movie.

I think that smaller venues don’t understand, or maybe they do because I’ve had talks with them about this, that if an interpreter is requested, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an interpreter has to be provided. There has to be, a means of communication, a means of accessibility provided.

But I think a lot of venues think of it just as a money thing. Like, oh we can’t afford this. But there are tax write-offs for businesses and organizations that provide it. And I would agree with you and I think Andre 3000 would agree with you, cuz he says this in the film

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

Cat Brewer: Yes. He says, you know, it should be normal. It should be a standard. Just like if artists have speakers in their rider, they should put interpreters in their rider.

Jenee Darden: What is the rider?

Cat Brewer: So artists typically have a rider, that they work out. Like, oh, such and such band only wants yellow M&Ms in their dressing room. So that’s a rider. It’s like, what does the artist want? What do they require? How many speakers on stage? What their lighting is like, what food they want, what accommodations, and they could add interpreters as what kind of accessibility do they want their audience to have.

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

So what’s going on as far as with that? Are there enough interpreters of color?

Cat Brewer: No.

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

Cat Brewer: Yes, absolutely. There’s a lot of different shades to that. There are definitely not as many interpreters of color as there are white interpreters. White performers may not represent an artist well.

Um, especially I think that example was given by, an interpreter of color named Odie Ashford, who lives in the Bay Area. She signed for Tony! Tony! Tone! for like a year that I was following them around. And yeah I think that rightfully so, a white interpreter would have a problem signing the N-word.

And it’s a sticky situation because as an interpreter, you are ethically required to be able to interpret exactly what is being said. Otherwise, you are then censoring the information given to the deaf and hard of hearing community. So there’s lots of different shades. There’s definitely not enough interpreters of color.

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

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

Um, and there are different signs. You talk about that also. There are as many different sign languages ​​as there are languages ​​in the world. My film does address that briefly and it talks about Black American sign language. Schools were segregated – Blacks and whites. And so same thing with deaf schools.

Black students and white students were segregated and black students created their own language. And when schools were integrated, it’s like two different languages ​​coming together.

Jenee Darden: Did you, did you face any hurdles, making this film or even just trying to come into this community and cover this issue?

Cat Brewer: Yes. Very much so. There are people who have thrown around the phrase “cultural appropriation.”. Uh, you know,” why are you doing this movie? You are not part of our community. You don’t have anyone in your life that is a part of this community. Why are you doing this?” And for me, I came from it from the perspective of I’ve been a communications professor for 22 years.

And this was just another form of communication. This film was another platform for me to teach and to educate people, and I did my best to not be in the film whatsoever. There’s a couple times you hear my voice when I’m doing an interview that my editor decided to throw in there. But for the most part, this is someone else’s story and I was just the vehicle for the message to come through.

So when I go to film festivals, I typically always have and invite the people that were in my film to be there with me, to represent, to talk about issues because they can speak to those issues way better than I can.

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

Cat Brewer: Help make access easier?

There’s ways to help with getting an interpreter if needed. A hearing person cannot just call a venue and say, “Hey, I want an interpreter for this night.” That’s unethical and I believe illegal to do that unless there is an actual need for it. So one way is to become more educated, to learn more about the history of the deaf and hard of hearing community so you have a better understanding of what their challenges are.

You can learn sign language. Even if it is simply learning the alphabet. It gives you a better conduit of communication with this community.