And Your Name Is Jonah and Bridge to Silence: Films About Family Relations Where either a Parent or a Child Is Deaf

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Vanderbilt University
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Films whether on television or at the theater have consisted of deaf characters very infrequently. Films as with other forms of mass media are a very powerful tool because they are primary sources of transmitting public information to people around the world. Definition of successful films is determined by their popularity and number of people who enjoy watching them. Net gross earnings in the film industry determine how successful a movie is. A movie with high gross earnings often impels movie producers to produce other movies that have similar themes, plot, and storyline as the movie with high gross earnings.

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Films have the ability to influence how people think and perceive different issues. Given that most movie producers often want to produce popular movies, there has been an incessant criticism that there is a huge disconnect between real life and life as portrayed in movies. Movie producers have been criticized for not doing enough to address social issues such as racial and gender-based discrimination. Movie producers have also been accused of not addressing disability and deaf culture with the attention that they deserve. On the other side, there are individuals who argue that the criticism directed towards movie producers is ill placed, alleging that films are a mere reflection of cultural bias that exists in society. The argument that films are a mere reflection of cultural bias that exists in society may be true, but I disagree with it. Most films are a reflection of the personal prejudices that the film makers have.

Films are powerful tools for depicting human relations due to their profound portrayal of some elements of human nature that are rarely brought out by television programs. Despite films success in portraying human relations, very few stories about the intersection between deaf culture and hearing people are being done. The paper critically analyses two films using different film elements to determine the intention of different segments portrayed by the films; the paper also highlights possible elements that were overlooked by film makers and that could have affected the interpretation of the films in a different manner.

And Your Name Is Jonah and Bridge to Silence are two films that have been successful in portraying challenges and diversity that plague family relations where either a parent or a child is deaf. In And Your Name Is Jonah, Jonah is a deaf child who is misdiagnosed as having mental disabilities. It is later discovered that Jonah is not mentally disabled, he is only but deaf. Jonahs mother then struggles to communicate with her son in her quest to impart appropriate knowledge and information in her son (Michaels et al., 1981). In Bridge to Silence, a deaf mothers incapacity to raise her hearing child compels her mother (the childs grandmother) to step in and care for the child. The deaf mothers incapacity to raise her child is compounded when she suffers a breakdown courtesy of an accident that kills her husband. Problems ensue in the family when the mother of the child recovers and demands to take care of her child, yet the grandmother of the child is hesitant in surrendering the child (Matlin et al., 1990). Nowadays, very few films portray challenges and family dynamics that exist in families where one or more family members are deaf. Many people may find the above-mentioned films controversial, complex and disturbing to watch. It is hard for an uneducated person to understand challenges involved in interacting with a family member who is deaf. Political watchdogs such as Alexander Graham Bell organization have to be applauded for their efforts in raising concerns about deaf culture.

And your name is Jonah was released in 1979. The film portrays challenging experiences that parents who had deaf children in the 1970s went through. During the 1970s, there were scarce resources that parents who had deaf children could use to improve communication with their children. During that period, there was a medical, pathological view about deaf culture. I intend to point out scenes in the film that reveal the medical, pathological view about deaf culture.


Matlin, M., Remick, L., O'Keefe, M., Fries Entertainment (Firm), & Fries Home Video (Firm). (1990). Bridge to silence. Hollywood, CA: Fries Home Video.

Michaels, R., Bortman, M., Struthers, S., Woods, J., Bravin, J., & Copyright Collection (Library of Congress). (1981). --and your name is Jonah. United States: CBS Television Network.

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