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RNID meets Nyle Dimarco

Transcript of RNID Facebook Live event on 27 November 2020: RNID Ambassador Samantha Baines chats to Deaf activist Nyle Dimarco about the landmark Netflix show he helped produce called Deaf U – and so much more.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
So, I am Samantha Baines. I am Ambassador of RNID, and I am joined by Executive Producer of Deaf U, Nyle Dimarco. Hello.

NYLE DIMARCO:
Hi. Good morning.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
Thank you so much for joining us. I’m very excited to have a chat with you. Now, I don’t know if you know this already, but I am a member of the D/deaf community. I have a hearing aid. Here it is.

[LAUGHS]

I… Yay!

NYLE DIMARCO:
Were you hard of hearing since birth?

SAMANTHA BAINES:
No. So, I discovered my hearing loss later in life. I have hearing loss in one ear, wear a hearing aid and I have two types of tinnitus.

NYLE DIMARCO:
Wow.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
So, super excited to hear about Deaf U and watch it because I’ve never seen anything representing someone like me before. So, would you like to explain what your hopes were for the show?

NYLE DIMARCO:
Absolutely. Really, you know, you feel represented by this show, your feeling of being represented by this show really goes back to so much of what our goals really were. And my own experience on America’s Next Top Model and Dancing with the TV or Dancing With The Stars, both reality TV shows where I was cast as the only D/deaf person. And I found myself being portrayed as very one-dimensionally onscreen. My background was never really explored. My, you know, my experiences were never really explored. The question seemed to always be about struggles and things that I’ve, you know, been challenged with in regards to my deafness. No one asked me about what it was like to come from a D/deaf family and how that was a utopia.

So, I wanted to really highlight the students at Gallaudet University because I wanted to really take a deep dive into their everyday lives, their likes, their dislikes, where they come from. And so much of it really comes down to our community storyline and what it would look like for ‘Deaf U.’ Immediately I knew in creating the show that I really wanted to capture both ends of the spectrum. That was really key. I wanted to meet generationally deaf people like Tessa on the show. And on the other end of the spectrum, I wanted to meet people who were maybe latent deaf or were born deaf but had been raised oral or in a mainstream program and hadn’t learned sign language until much later because we really wanted to portray that there is in fact no one right way to be deaf.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
I really like that ’cause it’s… I’m learning BSL at the moment because I’ve come to my kind of deaf experience later in life. And I really enjoyed the fact that there was representation of people the same as me but then also the ‘elite’ people who were born deaf. Am I right in thinking you come from a deaf family? Are you part of the ‘elite’?

NYLE DIMARCO:
Absolutely. Absolutely. But also ‘elite’ can carry a meaning if you go to a deaf school growing up. It could essentially put you into that group. Yeah. I would say if you were from a Deaf family and from a deaf school.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
So, it’s not like Mean Girls.

NYLE DIMARCO:
Yes, and I also went to a deaf school growing up as well. It’s not quite like Mean Girls. I’d say I’m the nice one. But, you know, I do remember having moments during my own time in college. You know, when I went to Gallaudet University in my first year, I started meeting people from all over the spectrum. You know, a real wide diversity of people, many of which would choose to speak on campus. And I remember having to nudge them and ask them to sign on a deaf campus in our space, right? It’s the only place in the world where all of us can really feel normal and where there aren’t any oppressive systems on our own language, right? And I do remember those moments. There were two people that I saw and I remember sort of losing my temper on them because of how they reacted. And, you know, there are people like me who do have to sort of navigate that and how we make those discussions happen, how we approach it. You know, I was 18, right? I had the language to talk about it but I don’t know if I had the language to educate them.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
So, I think it’s super interesting that you went to this university and then made a show about it. So, how did your experience inform making Deaf U?

NYLE DIMARCO:
Well, I think going to Gallaudet was such an incredible, incredibly helpful experience. You know, being born into the deaf community and really raised culturally Deaf, you know, I’m very familiar with what our community looks like. But having the experience of being at Gallaudet as a student for five years and now an alum, I was able to pull from a lot of my own experience, right? And meeting students who come into Gallaudet University without any knowledge of sign language, without any knowledge of deaf culture which meant by the time, you know, many of them graduate, they realise what they’ve missed out on for the previous 18 years of their life, right? Growing up without ASL, growing up without the culture, without the community, right?

My own experience of seeing that, had I never gone to Gallaudet, I don’t know if I would have the sort of perspective to bring to the table a Deaf U. And I really do think that that was key. Now, the cast members on Deaf U like, say, Daequan and, you know, Rodney is a really great example. Both of them really show what 95% of deaf children in the world really experience, right? Both born to hearing parents, both come from a very different background. They really represent the majority, right? In fact, generationally deaf people in our community only makeup about 5%. So, we’re very much the minority, it was really key to have them in the making of the show.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
It was kind of a revelation for me watching because I now rely on my hearing aid. I’m lip reading. And I’ve never been in an environment where the main language was sign language. And I was like, ‘I want to go there and experience that.’ Was that part of your idea for the show? Did you want to shine a light on not just the deaf community but those experiences that are out there for young people?

NYLE DIMARCO:
I did. I did. I do think that one of the biggest misconceptions that hearing people have is that deaf people in fact don’t have a community or a sense of a community. And I wanted to show that it exists. And that it exists on a vibrant campus. Deaf U’ was really an opportunity to show that through our students.

I thought it was an excellent entry point for people to see that not only do we have a community but there’s a community where deaf people can in fact thrive, right? You know, Gallaudet is not just, you know, one experience for us in the community. I mean Deaf U cast are from all over the US. They have their own communities where they are. And so, I thought it was really key to show it. But I wanted to also show that deaf people are in fact everywhere. And if you can’t find us, look harder. That’s all.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
Nice. I like that. And you mentioned the core cast come from all over the US. How did you go about finding those people that you spotlighted in the show?

NYLE DIMARCO:
So, I joined the project once casting had already begun. The casting process was well underway by the time I was a part of the casting process. The director actually was from Austin, Texas, which is one of the largest deaf communities in the world. There’s a very large deaf school there as well. And so, you know, the community while we are very big, we also are very tight knit. And so, by a few degrees of separation, I got in touch and we started working with the specific people that they had already cast and looking at their friends. And we just expanded at that point. So, we essentially took what they already had on the table and met with other people.

When I had a few meetings with the executive directors and then finally with the cast, I explained to them that, you know, after looking at all of the video reels, we needed more diversity, right? Because the folks that they had chosen at that point was essentially… ..they were essentially just from deaf families, right? And I wanted more language fluency diversity, right? I wanted to see Rodney as a deaf person. I could tell that, you know, he had learned sign maybe three or four years ago, right? And I could tell that Daequan had started learning a few years ago. And so, that really was a big part of the story itself and I wanted to bring that in. I wanted to make sure that we were representing all sorts of backgrounds and all sorts of language experiences. And so, they didn’t realise that but once we finished that meeting we realised that we had a little bit more work to do. Found a few more cast members who were friends with our group and ensured that we had one end of the spectrum. and of course, bridge it all the way to the other.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
Because there has been some feedback about the show, about the lack of diversity particularly with women of colour and people have also mentioned about, you know, deaf-blind and different aspects of the community in that way. What would your response be to that feedback?

NYLE DIMARCO:
I mean it’s absolutely valid, right? It’s absolutely valid and very much constructive feedback that we can build on, right? The goal of this show was never to leave it at one season into one experience. The goal has always been to really stretch the boundaries of what we’re able to do. And I believe that any show can always be doing better. For Season 2, it’s been our goal to provide a deeper dive, right? And to see a group of friends that is even more diverse.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
So, is that a little secret that you’ve released? There’s going to be a series two?

NYLE DIMARCO:
Fingers crossed. Netflix needs to give us a call first. And as soon as they do, we’ll get a season two in the works.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
I felt we’ve got an exclusive there. I was excited.

NYLE DIMARCO:
No. No, unfortunately but hopefully.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
Fingers crossed. Fingers crossed. So, we’ve had a few questions in from our RNID audience that I’d love to put to you. I mean the main question that I should ask first that a lot of people asked is, ‘Are you currently single?’

NYLE DIMARCO:
I am currently single. Yes, single and free.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
That’s what we like to hear. I’m here for the people asking their questions. But more relevant. [LAUGHS]

NYLE DIMARCO:
I’m open to it. Absolutely. Open to relationship at any time.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
More relevant to what we’re talking about today, Deaf U, a couple of people have tweeted us and got in touch. They’ve asked, Why did you focus on people’s lives and stories in Deaf U rather than the education?’

NYLE DIMARCO:
I think, originally, my goal was not to make this a PSA or to make this, you know, an after-school special or, you know, I just… I didn’t want this to be, you know, a teaching exercise. I wanted to make a really interesting show that would explore deaf people’s lives and the connections that they have with one another, right? And to show that we’re just like hearing people.

You know, our really most accessible lens to pull our audience into the deaf community, into the deaf experience was the romantic lens. And, you know, that feeling, that experience is so incredibly universal for anyone. And so, I knew that hearing people at home could say, Yes, I too want that’ or ‘I too have experienced that’ essentially forgetting that the cast is deaf. And that’s really what we wanted.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
I think that’s so true. I was actually interviewed about what it was like to have sex as a deaf person. And I was like, pretty much the same way you’d have it, I imagine.

NYLE DIMARCO:
Right. [LAUGHS]
Right. Exactly. Exactly.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
I think people have weird preconceptions on what it means to be deaf. And that’s why I personally was excited about the show because it shows that, you know, you can drive and have sex and live your life.

NYLE DIMARCO:
Right. Right. Right. I do think that it’s quite interesting.

Obviously, you know, we’re a hyper marginalised community of course. But over the years, you know, we have felt a responsibility to constantly educate the hearing public. And we have to educate them so much that it has in fact become ingrained in our DNA, right? Deaf U broke ground and really broke the mould and the formula of what we’re seeing, used to, right? But now, the community is in fact taken back by it, right? We’re so used to educating that we’re not used to seeing ourselves just as we are. And so, this is an approach and an experience that we all have to navigate essentially to normalise who we are, right? Within the…within the majority. If that makes sense.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
Definitely. So, we’ve had another question… from our audience. Deaf U faced criticism that deaf writers and producers should have been involved in the show. Why weren’t they used?’

NYLE DIMARCO:
So, the show itself is a docu-soap, right? Or what we would call reality TV show. So, we don’t actually employ writers for the show. You know that would be something that you’d find more in the scripted space like a sitcom, right? But we did in fact hire…roughly 50% of our production crew who were deaf or had some sort of hearing loss. This was the first time in history that this had ever been done. We had deaf vloggers on set. We did have deaf producers in the field. In fact, this show being the first of its kind in Hollywood history, we really broke the mould in… ..in creating a ratio of 50% hearing and 50% deaf people. We hope that that really creates a framework for future work to come.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
Yeah. And what I found interesting was even the shots were different from a normal talking head show because they were further away. So, we could take in all the signing that was going on as well. And I think as a person within the community, I felt that I could see represented the thought behind it that had gone into making the show from someone who knew what the experience was.

NYLE DIMARCO:
Right. Right. So many of my friends asked me, essentially, you know, how the hell do you capture those moments that made it into the show? Because, you know, they’re almost impossible to recognise, right? You know, someone, say, signing in a corner with a hearing cameraman you’re not actually going to catch what they’re saying, right? The cameraman might just be focusing on the scene at hand. But having deaf creators behind the camera really allows us to capture those experiences, right? So, we wanted deaf people on set. We had deaf people who were standing behind the camera who were constantly keeping track of the conversation, right? Noticing something that might be happening, right? Maybe a secret gets exchanged or a wink or a glance, right? A kiss stolen. And we wanted to make sure that those moments were caught by deaf eyes. It was the reason why we were able to create such great content. And it’s incredibly… incredible, critical. It’s incredibly critical to show within that that, you know, deaf representation behind the screen is the only way that authenticity happens.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
Hundred percent. And we have another question. I mentioned earlier elitism in the deaf community which is something that I’d seen a little bit but was expanded on much more in the show which I found interesting. Someone asks about it. Deaf elitism was a key topic in the show. I can’t believe others in the same community would discriminate against someone else knowing the challenges they face. What would you say about this?’

NYLE DIMARCO:
As I mentioned before, my experience at Gallaudet, you know, I had a moment, right? At 18 where there were people talking on campus. And, you know, I did find myself losing my temper a little bit. I do think that the elites are quite protective of our community and our culture because essentially they are the carriers of the culture, right? They are the carriers of the language whose role and job it is, essentially, is to pass it down over the generations. You know, over the last 20 years deaf schools in our community have started to disappear, right? ASL itself is on the brink of extinction. I do think that so much of it comes from a place of panic, so much from a place of fear. And, you know, I of course want to see the ASL community thriving for many, many, many more years. And I think that’s something that I share with a lot of other elites who might be taking it a little bit wrong, right? We don’t want to, you know, see a watered-down sign language essentially that, you know, starts to blend with English. It’s very dangerous to the health and to the continuity of our language. So, I think there are just a lot of strong feelings about passing down the culture and passing it down our community. But it’s critical that we all sort of analyse and self-reflect on what our place is within society and are we using it appropriately.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
And I think it’s interesting that you’ve used your profile for activism. Do you think that that’s something as part of the deaf elite you’ve sort of felt the weight on your shoulders to carry forward the message and promote, you know, speaking with sign language and sharing the values of the deaf community?

NYLE DIMARCO:
Yeah. I do.

You know, I would say, you know, deaf people like me who, you know, come from a deaf family and went to a deaf school, we only make up 10% of the community, right? It’s a very, very small minority, right? And over the last five years in this industry, within Hollywood, I’ve only ever wanted to work to shine a light on the community and to see them do well, right?

And that has to, you know, that has to have a place in every bit of my work, right? It was such a big driving factor behind why I wanted to make ‘Deaf U’ because it really debunks all of the things that people have told me over the last five years, people have expected over the last five years. You know, it shows our community and our culture at the same time. And, you know, I think it also spreads out that burden a little bit. that you mentioned, right, to other cast members who now are able to represent the community along the spectrum. Where it’s not just one voice speaking for a collective Because that’s impossible.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
Yeah. And I think it’s interesting that you mentioned earlier that you were the only deaf… You were cast as the only deaf person in America’s Next Top Model and Dancing with the Stars. And how have you found the industry and navigating the entertainment world as a deaf person. Cause I know I’ve never… I’m an actress and author and I’ve never had an audition for a deaf character, for someone with hearing loss, or hearing aid. A lot of the time it’s not mentioned when I audition.

NYLE DIMARCO:
I would say navigating Hollywood has been very tough as a deaf person. There are, you know, so many people in the community who I think maybe still don’t realise or perhaps they think that I have a lot of power but in fact, I don’t, right? It’s very much a hearing world out here. And, you know, the hearing world really does have all the power at the table. You know, I really work to set myself up for meetings, to set myself up with casting directors and writers and directors, executive producers, as much as I possibly can. All in an effort to try to convince them to write me in as a deaf character, right? Or to write a deaf person essentially in as a character rather, you know? And I always get the same response. I love you. I love your work. I love your acting. We think you’re great. But we have to figure out how to write you in cause we just don’t know how. And my first response is always, ‘Work with me. I can help you.’ But they don’t want to open that door, right?

So, often Hollywood likes to keep their doors closed and to keep the table the same group. And oftentimes I think they don’t realise… And it’s not so much their fault perhaps but I think that they don’t realise and that they don’t really understand, you know, what the deaf community and what the deaf culture along with our experience really looks like. And those moments really created one larger moment for me which was when I realised that I needed to start developing my own thing, right? I needed to start making my own stuff if I wanted to see myself on the screen. If I wanted to see myself really represented, I was going to have to create ‘Deaf U’ and a 30-minute, you know, comedy series and a feature film, right? Hoping that all of those things will essentially help Hollywood and give them more ideas. But at the same time help pave a little bit of a road for them to open that door, so the deaf people can get in and can find a seat at the table and begin to train and develop themselves in order to contribute to the industry and create content that really represents them.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
I think I’ve had a similar experience. And I wrote a children’s book about a little girl with a hearing aid. And her hearing aid translates alien languages. And her and her gran protect the Earth from aliens, of course. But quite a lot of the time that piece of work is seen as a ‘deaf piece of work’ and not just a fun, funny children’s book that happens to have a little girl with a hearing aid in it.

NYLE DIMARCO:
Right.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
So, how do you think… Cause I’ve heard about your scripted series. I’m really excited to see it. How have you approached that in a different way? And what advice would you give to someone maybe wanting to write in a deaf character but not having that experience themselves?

NYLE DIMARCO:
Well, I would say, you know, first and foremost speaking of writers, hearing writers, specifically, I would say, you know, pretty obvious, right? Look for a deaf person to work with, right? Hire those people as maybe story editors or just contributors. You know, find ways to open the door to deaf people and, you know, pull that seat up at the table, right? In writing a story about a deaf character or a deaf role as a hearing person it’s impossible without the collaboration, right? From, you know, researching and watching YouTube videos, you’re never going to find the authenticity that’s really key. And I do think that, you know, I’ve seen it over and over and over again, you know, people say, ‘I don’t know where to start. I don’t know where to start.’ Don’t even get me started with that bullshit.

[LAUGHS]

If you can find him on the Twitter and you can find him on Instagram, and if you can find him on YouTube with a simple Google search, then don’t tell me that you don’t know where to start. We google 20,000 times a day. You have some options. But I mean ask me that maybe 20 years ago and I’d believe you. But today, absolutely not. I mean it’s literally five extra minutes of homework. That’s all I ask.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
And look right here, two people with different sides of the deaf community straight away. So, job done. So we’ve got another couple of questions that we’ve had for you from our audience. Someone said they have mild hearing loss and they love the show. But their friend who is profoundly deaf didn’t like it so much as she didn’t think it portrayed her experiences well enough. What would you say… We’ve covered it a little bit. But what would you say about representing the wide deaf and hearing-loss community. And how did you handle the pressure of that representation?

NYLE DIMARCO:
So, my… Truly, you know, when I imagine the people watching the show that I really need to make a large impact on, it’s a hearing audience most often. Again, people from the deaf community for years and years and years have, you know, really been looking for this representation right? We want to see everything possible represented on screen. But, you know, it’s impossible to see each individual person represented onscreen exactly as they are because no one deaf person is the same, right? And even so, the wider audience is still learning from the representation that we’ve had an opportunity to offer. You know, for now over a hundred years since Hollywood has existed, we haven’t really had our own positioning. We haven’t had our moments. And so, you know, it does feel like why give everything, in season one, right? There’s a bit of a game here, right?

Hollywood has been craving something like this, and the audience at home, has been craving something like this right? People with mild hearing loss, being represented on this show, seeing that, you know, the culture is out there. Communities out there is a huge deal for me, of course. But you know, for the deaf community, we watched the show, and we realised we’re just scratching the surface here, right? This is just the beginning. And essentially, both sides are right, right. We’re not going to give you everything in season one, because we want a season two, a three, a four, a five, a seven, a 20. Right, we’ll take you deeper, but you take us there. And so it’s just honestly, it’s a game of chess?

SAMANTHA BAINES:
Well, I’m looking forward to season 20.

[LAUGHS]

It’s going to be great. And so with Deaf U, do you think that your audience is hearing people or the deaf community or both?

NYLE DIMARCO:
I would say that our biggest audience is probably hearing people. You know, the deaf community, of course, where we are big, but proportionally within the population, I’d say, you know, the larger audience, will be hearing audience, I do think that we should always, essentially have the mindset that you know, your audience, you know, it’s hearing being the, majority of the population, but also, you know, some communities are, going to watch regardless.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
And do you think, do you see, Deaf U as the beginning? Or would you like it to be the beginning, of a kind of wave of new shows, featuring the D/deaf community written by, people with hearing loss and deafness?

NYLE DIMARCO:
Yeah, yeah. I do hope to see Deaf U, essentially, as a tool that, the entertainment industry, can use and emulate, and creating deaf characters, deaf storylines, drawing on deaf ideas. Again, you know us being, able to hire 50% crew, who were deaf essentially helped us, build a little piece of our deaf empire, to claim a stake in Hollywood, right? We hope that later we have, you know, producing rights, we have producing power that, we have production companies, and real content being developed, in five, ten years from now. The deaf community really will have, a hold in and a place in, you know, Deaf U really, essentially work, to open many, many doors.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
I like that you call it the Deaf Empire. Will you be the head of our Deaf Empire?

NYLE DIMARCO:
I mean, I would say no, because I truly hope to see, more leaders taking on that burden, and more people really, handling the representation right? I can’t be the only one sort of working, at the front of this movement. I you know, I would like to see, an allied frontier, right? The same as like what you would see in an army.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
So I’ll be your lieutenant. I’m happy to offer myself up there.

[LAUGHTER]

Can you tell us a little bit more about your scripted comedy show that’s coming up?

NYLE DIMARCO:
Sure, so the half hour scripted series is in fact, loosely based on my own life, my own experiences growing up, as a deaf person in America.

Like I mentioned, it is a comedy. It does have a little flair of the serious, but I’m really thrilled to, see it out there and see it, at home with our audiences. It’s very exciting to executive produce it, and to have an opportunity, to develop these ideas, but also to lead in the show as well.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
And are there any things you think you’ve learned, from making Deaf U that you’re going to bring, into the creative process with your show?

NYLE DIMARCO:
I would say… things that, I’ve learned from Deaf U really stand out so much in regards, to the deaf experience, and that it’s so much broader than, even I could have imagined. Right? I’ve been so interested to hear, who actually feels related, and who actually feels represented by people, on screen and I want to see more of that. I want to really continue that. And really offer a slice of, deaf life in my own show. I do think that, you know, Deaf U really provided so much value to, the idea of having deaf people behind screen, to really push the story forward. Right. And I hope at some point, we’ll have 100% deaf people, behind and in front of the camera. So I’d say that’s amazing. Yeah.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
And do you think so far, since you’ve been kind of in the limelight, have you had a moment as a deaf man, where you thought things might be changing, people are listening to me, we’re getting representation.

NYLE DIMARCO:
I would say, I’ve definitely had that moment, in the very beginning of my, own career within this industry. Starting with America’s Next Top Model, you know, I just thought I would be involved in the show, and it was an opportunity, but I don’t know, if I really realised the impact, that it would have had. And I certainly didn’t know at the time, that it would pave a way for me to be able to, reframe the deaf community, you know, comparatively to five years ago. I mean, it just was the right time, it really was the right time. And now I’ve, really, I think used that, opportunity as much as possible, to kind of push my way through Hollywood, and make these projects happen, I think I’m incredibly lucky, to have had the opportunity, to jump in at the right place, you know, to bring curiosity to the table, and also to be able to empower our community.

You know, I definitely think there’s a lot more ASL content, now coming out, which is wonderful. And I do have to wonder, is it because of America’s Next Top Model, and Dancing with the Stars offering, you know, a total of over 30 million views weekly. You know, I do wonder if that was, a big part of the impact. And I do hope so because it was an opportunity that I wanted to take advantage of, in order to really shine a light on the deaf community, which we love.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
And you’re such a positive guy. Surely, or I imagine, I know, from my experience, I can feel quite isolated, as part of the deaf community, and as someone with hearing loss in certain kind of entertainment situations, you know, when I go to a screening of a film that I’ve been in, and everyone’s talking and it’s really loud, and I can’t hear what people are saying, or lip read and it does take a toll, on my mental health, and I have anxiety, which is exacerbated by that, have you found your mental health has been affected? Or how have you coped with that challenge in your everyday life?

NYLE DIMARCO:
I mean, I always say that, you know, hearing people give me anxiety.

[LAUGHTER]

You know, networking parties, events, award shows, any sort of premiere, you know, a lot of the press five minutes before, I really have to pump myself up, right? And I often find myself saying, “Do I want to go? Do I even do I want to go?” it’s not like, I’m going to be talking to many people anyway, I don’t want to, you know, maybe I’m not feeling comfortable with, hearing people that night. It’s a lot of emotions, right. And it definitely takes quite, a big toll on you for sure. But in the end, I always do go, and I always try to put myself out there. And I sort of make a deal with them. Right, I smile for them, and they help move us all forward, you know, and usually, I’m there for 45 minutes, and I leave. And I always tell myself that, I don’t have to stay for three hours, right? It’s just 45 minutes and then I can go, back home to the comfort of my couch. And I’d say that’s how I cope. And also you know, I do think that I’m very fortunate. Growing up, you know, the majority of, my life was in the deaf community. And I still had, you know, I still have a lot of deaf friends, of course, my whole family. But now having that, it feels like I sort of, have this safety net if you will, right? Like, I’m not going to lose my friends. I’m not going to lose my family. I can bear a little isolation, for a few minutes, you know, or a few hours because I know that I’m always going to go back to a safe, loving, warm place. And so I consider myself very fortunate.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
I saw a TikTok, I think it was, that you did where paparazzi were shouting at you, and you were like, “I can’t hear you,” so there’s no point in shouting. Just take your photos. And I think I have the opposite problem, of they shout at me. And I try to hear them and so, they end up taking photos of me going… What? [LAUGHS]

But thank you for sharing your experiences because I felt like I could relate.

NYLE DIMARCO:
Yeah, absolutely, honestly, this is a really fun interview. This is a pleasure. And these are really great questions. These are definitely more than the typical interviewer. A lot of fun.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
Well, thanks. I’m going to put that on my CV, Nyle recommended.

[LAUGHTER]

I just wanted to ask you a few more questions about, what’s going on in the world right now. cause obviously, we’re in the midst of a pandemic, people are wearing face masks, and for a lot of deaf people that’s quite isolating, and difficult to cope with. Especially if people rely on lip reading. I know I do. How have you sort of dealt with this new world of face masks? And have you found it’s affected your life in any way?

NYLE DIMARCO:
[LAUGHS] Oh, man, I lip read a lot. You know, if I go to the grocery store I have to lip read from getting coffee, there are a lot of situations that I rely on lip reading very heavily in. The mask has been a very interesting experience for me. You know, some cashiers, I know are super pissed off at me because I can’t hear them. Right. And, you know, they might ask, like, if I want a bag? but obviously I can’t see them talking to me. Right? So they think they’re talking to me, and I’m just completely ignoring them. So I get these angry faces a lot. And then I like “No, I’m not. It’s not a rude thing.” But I do think that, you know, everyone is going through, something right now. Right. And, you know, I definitely can’t blame anyone’s specific temper, you know, more of a lack of awareness. It’s just something that, I’ve really sort of made peace with, and have started to move on. I do feel a lot of concern for deaf children, like I mentioned, 95% of them, do come from hearing families, with deaf schools not being open, it means that their access to sign language is now very much reduced, 75% of hearing parents out there don’t actually sign with their deaf child. So what we’re facing is a crisis, to language access into language acquisition, we want to make sure that we’re still building a foundation and language for those children, even when they go home and, don’t have some access to the language. So I would say, I’m more concerned about that. My concern about lip reading, I think I can bear it. [LAUGHS]

SAMANTHA BAINES:
Well, is there any… I think that’s interesting. Is there any advice that you’d give to parents? So hearing parents with a deaf child? How would you say, are there any steps, that they should take, other than learning sign language?

NYLE DIMARCO:
Yeah, absolutely, I think a lot of parents, you know, typically don’t worry about learning sign language, because, you know, they feel that they shouldn’t be learning, you know, language at the same time, as their child, you know, and that their children will benefit as much, but in fact, it’s the opposite. If you learn sign language alongside your deaf child, you’re going to find it’s, in fact, the best way to do it, right. You don’t have to, to have any sort of pre-built, knowledge and language or any sort of fluency before having a deaf child to learn. And sign language is really fun. Doing it with your kid is a really great way to develop an awesome bond with your child. I mean, learning up a language together. That’s beautiful, you know, and truthfully, who wouldn’t want that with our own parents, right? In regards to finding American Sign Language out there, YouTube has a lot of wonderful deaf creators, it’s important to make sure that you’re following someone who is in fact deaf, and using the right signs, but you can also download the ASL app, which is great. It’s got over 1,800 signs and it’s really incredible.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
I think it’s really interesting that sign language isn’t universal. And I guess speaking languages aren’t universal. So you know ASL, and I’m learning BSL. Do you think we should have some sort of worldwide SL that means that we can communicate cross country ’cause that’d be cool.

NYLE DIMARCO:
To be honest with you, I don’t know if I would be, the biggest supporter of it. You know, language in general follows culture. Right. And so I think it would be impossible for us to have a universal language because culture, of course, is not so much universal. You know, same with spoken languages, remember if they started with Esperanto, a few years ago, and it was a huge failure, simply because, you know, the cultures weren’t willing or able to accept it. So. I don’t know. But you know, fortunately for us as deaf people, we gesture, right, which is, in a way a form of universal language, right? We’re very good with our hands. People from countries outside of the US are often quite, you know, talented with within the world of gesture, and we tend to be more animated, so that helps. Yeah, ’cause there’s definitely BSL words that I’m learning, that are very similar to ASL words, and we’ve definitely picked up your Trump sign.

[LAUGHS]

Yeah, that one’s a keeper. You know, a lot of sign is innate or intuitive. You know, so of course, you find a lot of them similar. So some No, but many Yes.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
So I thought I could teach you a BSL sign that kind of represents, my experience of the pandemic. And I’m not sure what it is in ASL. So we’ll see. So I’m going to teach you the sign, for Rosé wine, which is [SIGNS] Rosé wine.

NYLE DIMARCO:
Wait, it’s Rosé wine [SIGNS].

SAMANTHA BAINES:
Rosé wine in BSL.

NYLE DIMARCO:
Interesting. I don’t know if, I have ever seen that before. I know a very little bit of BSL, we actually spell here in the US, we spell Rosé wine.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
Well, now you can do Rosé wine.

NYLE DIMARCO:
Absolutely, I love Rosé, that’s fantastic.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
And I feel that that represents me quite well. So that’s one of my gifts to you from this interview.

NYLE DIMARCO:
Rosé wine. I’ll take it.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
And so what’s next for you? So you’ve made a landmark show Deaf U. You’re creating a comedy show, written by you and starring you? Where do you see your career, and activism going next?

NYLE DIMARCO:
Well, I do have another Netflix docu, a documentary coming out in 2021 that follows a deaf boy, actually at my own High School, Alma Mater, which is in Maryland. So I’m really thrilled about that. I’m looking forward to seeing, the audience at home’s response to it, of course, I’m also developing an hour long doc. And I also have a feature film in the works that I’m currently developing, which is a story that surrounds the 1988 protest at Gallaudet University called, Deaf President Now, which essentially became the deaf community’s, civil rights movement. And it was all in an effort to eject the sitting hearing president, and elect a deaf president. Finally, it really symbolised over 100 years of paternalism within our community that we were ready to shed the chains of. And the protest essentially worked to help the movement that was working to pass the ADA in 1990. And has so much to do with why I’m here today, how I’m able to actually work, in the entertainment industry, and how so many things happened in my life and how they’ve really lined up for me has to do with the 1988 protest. So…

SAMANTHA BAINES:
Wow, busy!

[LAUGHS]

NYLE DIMARCO:
Yeah, a bit. But you know, I’m looking forward to seeing more deaf representation out there, more deaf shows, more deaf films, I don’t know if I’ll ever be satisfied.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
Good. So can you imagine, you know, if there’s any deaf children out there, looking to follow in your footsteps, or young people or adults who want, to be in the entertainment industry, and be an activist like you are? What advice would you give them? Or what would you say to them?

NYLE DIMARCO:
I think I would say my advice is twofold. One, obviously, never take no as an answer. Right? If you get one, no, I mean, there’s a lot more doors to choose, that are going to open for you. And also, use your uniqueness. Use your difference as an asset, you know, use your skills, and also use your social media, as much as possible, right. So many people are being found and discovered now on social media, because they’re acting on TikTok, or because of their editing skills, or because of their luck, but they’re out there, doing things that are so different. Now the playing field has really changed. It used to be that you had to start with an agency, you would move to LA, or you’d move to New York, but now you can live in Iowa and become an actress or an actor.

That’s part of the I think, the beauty of social media. And you can also become an activist, right, or just an ally online. And I would say those are really, the two biggest pieces I can offer.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
I think that’s great advice, and very inspiring. Just to…

NYLE DIMARCO:
Yeah, I mean, it’s honestly how, I ended up starting, So, it feels very true to my own story. I was discovered on Instagram. So…

SAMANTHA BAINES:
That’s interesting. So is that how they found you for America’s Next Top Model, posing on Instagram?

NYLE DIMARCO:
Yeah, it was actually, they contacted me on Instagram. They slid into my DMs and asked me, if I wanted to be on the show. And I thought, honestly, at first I was, like, it had to be a scam. But it turns out it was real, so…

SAMANTHA BAINES:
Well, that’s great. It’s good to know that Instagram DMs are used for something other than, weird creepy messages.

NYLE DIMARCO:
Yeah, yeah. Yeah. [LAUGHS]

SAMANTHA BAINES:
So just to round off, I just wanted to ask you, as a fellow member of the deaf community, what are some of the most annoying things people say to you, hearing people say to you? So one that I get all the time is, You don’t look deaf, and you don’t sound deaf. Have you had those ones?

NYLE DIMARCO:
Yes, yeah. People say, I’m too pretty to be deaf. And like, what does that even mean? Right? Like, as if there’s a barometer for looks on the deafness scale. Other annoying things? Hearing people will often ask me if I can read lips, and I’m like…

[GROANS]

It’s just such a catch 22 question. Because if I say yes, right, they, you know, start speaking and, you know, as normal as they would, and I’m completely lost, right? And completely uninhibited. But then if I say no, then you know, we’re screwed. So I like to keep it to a text on my phone. It’s much more simple that way.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
Yeah, I hate being tested on my lip reading skills.

NYLE DIMARCO:
Right, right.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
Also, people say I don’t look deaf, but no one’s ever said, I’m too pretty to be deaf. So I think that’s quite a good one, that you’ve got there.

[LAUGHTER]

NYLE DIMARCO:
I guess, yeah.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
What would you say is the, best thing about being deaf?

NYLE DIMARCO:
Oh, there’s so many things. Ooh…

SAMANTHA BAINES:
What’s your number one?

NYLE DIMARCO:
I would say, you know, getting to know ASL sign language. You know, not only is it one of the most beautiful languages that exists, but, you know, hearing people, always want to know it. Right. ASL, you know, gets the message through faster.

Yeah, and I would say, and then, if I had to choose a second, I would say Deaf culture. Deaf culture itself. It’s so hard to explain why it’s so incredible. But it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful. I mean, once you’ve experienced it, you’ll understand, why we want to preserve it. It’s just, it’s unbelievable. I’d say that those two are definitely the top, best reasons why it’s great to be deaf.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
And what’s the most annoying thing about being deaf? Is it just hearing people being annoying?

NYLE DIMARCO:
I would say hearing people.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
Yeah.

NYLE DIMARCO:
People are, yeah, by far, they typically make things harder for deaf people, when they really don’t need to be. They’re not that hard. They just find ways to make things complicated. It’s like, calm down hearing people, you’re going to be fine. Just like, let us guide you, you’ll be OK.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
I like that. I want to get a T shirt that says, Calm down, hearing people!

NYLE DIMARCO:
[LAUGHS] Right, big block letters, that’d be great. But yeah, I don’t think there’s anything really specifically annoying. But I would say that, you know, one thing that is really bothersome, Is how the system is really designed. Right? The system is really designed by hearing people, for hearing people. You know, and now deaf people, you know, have taken the burden, essentially, to fix it. Right? Especially in the community where, you know, you see someone like me, who kind of found my way into Hollywood, and it’s literally impossible for me to, represent every voice out there. Right. So, you know, when we look at, you know, any sort of infighting, or any sort of thing that might be annoying, I’d say, look back at the system, because that’s what caused it all.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
And any tips for hearing people watching? Who really don’t want to be annoying?

[LAUGHTER]

NYLE DIMARCO:
I would say don’t assume, that’s probably the biggest tip, is don’t assume. If you’re not sure, you know, Google it. You don’t have to ask a deaf person every question that comes to mind. 99% of the time, the answer is going to be there, sometimes even in the first search results. So you know, if not, I mean, alright. Try to tweet it out and see what happens. But yeah, chances are you get it on Google.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
Good advice. Yeah. Google is our friend.

NYLE DIMARCO:
Yeah.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
Just to finish off. In kind of one sentence, why should someone watch Deaf U?

NYLE DIMARCO:
Oh, it’s so many reasons. So many reasons… I would say number one, if you’re curious about the deaf community, if you’re curious about what I mean by Deaf culture, you know, if you want to see what it’s like at the world’s only deaf university. Watch it. That’s all.

SAMANTHA BAINES:
Perfectly done. Thank you so much. I really enjoyed interviewing you, and thank you for laughing at my jokes.

NYLE DIMARCO:
[LAUGHS] Of course, it was my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.

[Interview ends]