Dr Gemma King’s project ‘Sign on Screen: Language, Culture and Power in Sign Language Cinema’ is the recipient of Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC).
The project aims to discover how contemporary screens represent deafness and how sign language cinema filters Deaf and non-ableist perspectives. For this project, Dr King has partnered with Deaf Connect, which is an Australian Deaf organisation, and the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) where a Sign Language Film Festival will be held in 2025.
“The project looks at the evolution of representation of sign languages in film and television. We are currently in this revolution where more Deaf-led filmmaking is happening than ever before. We are starting to see different ways of thinking about deafness and the portrayal of sign language as an asset,” Dr King said.
“However, I am aware of the limits of my own perspective as a hearing person and that I will never fully understand what it’s like to be Deaf.”
The aim of the project includes establishing Australia as a hub for research and collaboration on sign language in film and television, enhancing Deaf representation and building Deaf capacity in line with Deaf Connect's research policy ‘Nothing about Deaf people without Deaf people’, and generating the world’s first transnational corpus of sign language films and series for academic and public use.
Sofya Gollan, a writer, director and an award-winning filmmaker, is also joining the project as a PhD candidate. She has over two decades of experience in advocating diversity inclusion, implementing cultural change and representation of diverse content on screen. She is a leader in design and delivery of disability-led screen programs and works in leadership roles across the screen, arts and disability sector.
“This is a subject close to my heart, as there is much work to be done in bringing forward Deaf people as experts in the language and community and it should be those key Deaf creatives (writer/director or producer) making the creative decisions on narratives containing Sign and Deaf culture,” Sofya said.
Sofya is a graduate from both National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA) and Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS), and her career spans a number of disciplines. As an actor, she is best known for being on Play School for over 30 years, normalising Disability onscreen well before it was recognised as essential representation.
She is also a playwright and has been a Griffin Playwrights Studio Resident. As a filmmaker, she has been nominated for four AFI/ACCTA Awards (Best Screenplay and Best Director) for her films which have screened extensively in Australia and internationally.
“It’s crucial that this project have direct Deaf participation and I couldn’t have hoped for someone more qualified than Sofya. She already has a wealth of experience writing, acting, directing and advising in the Australian film industry, and I’m excited to see what she does in her PhD,” Gemma said.
Written by Neha Attre