Dr Gemma King awarded grant for ‘Signs on Screen: Language, Culture and Power in Sign Language Cinema’

Dr Gemma King

Dr Gemma King

ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences would like to congratulate Dr Gemma King from the School of Literature, Languages and Linguistics who has received a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) from the Australian Research Council (ARC) for her project, ‘Signs on Screen: Language, Culture and Power in Sign Language Cinema’.

The project aims to discover how contemporary screens represent deafness and how sign language cinema filters Deaf and non-ableist perspectives.

“People may be unaware that there are many different sign languages around the world, including Auslan, American, regional and Indigenous. It’s a diverse linguistic landscape,” Dr King says.

“Sign languages are real languages and are as complex as verbal languages. They are not invented but grow out of communities and cultures similar to other languages.

“With the help of this project, I aim to not only increase the representation of sign languages but also debunk misconceptions about them. It will help hearing communities ‘unthink’ myths about deafness and sign language.”

Dr King has been awarded $465,100 for her project and the expected outcomes include capacity building for emerging Deaf scholars, inclusive innovations in film and language studies and new opportunities for Deaf/hearing dialogue and cohesion.

She says that even though Deaf characters have been portrayed in films, the majority of them have been played by hearing actors. “A real change in the culture is taking place internationally. Now, there is more Deaf-led filmmaking and more representation of sign languages. I am excited to see what happens in future films,” she says.

The DECRA recipient realises that being a hearing person and working on this project, there are limits to her perspectives on these films.

“We can make this a dynamic, creative and ethical project but it needs to be a collaboration. So, this project is a collaboration of Deaf partners, the Deaf community and will include postgraduate positions for Deaf students as well,” she adds.

To watch films that represent deafness, Dr King suggests starting with films like CODA (2021), Deaf U (Netflix series), Switched at Birth (TV series), The Sound of Metal (2019), Marie Heurtin (2014), The Tribe (2014) and A Quiet Place (2018).