The Role of Silent Films in the Deaf Community


The silent films in early 1900 had a massive audience ranging from the deaf to the hearing. In 1877, Thomas Edison created the phonograph, which enabled individuals to record, save, and listen to sound at their preferred time.[1] They became fascinated by a device that produced similar sounds to theirs and remembered what they said. In 1890, Edison managed to invent movies or motion pictures.[2] Tiny photographs were captured on film by a particular camera making the pictured different from each other. The strips were later run through a projector to blend the different images together with the aim of creating a motion illusion. Thomas Edison thought he could unite the sound and motion to create the image of a person in motion. However, the two inventions failed. Therefore, this gave rise to silent movies, which became very famous. Charlie Chaplin, one of the most famous movie actors, played The Little Tramp, which served as one of the most successful silent movies in history. Even though he never spoke, audiences could tell his thoughts and feelings through his facial expressions. Silent movies created the need for theaters to hire musical experts to play music during the films to keep the audience captivated. Silent films were appreciated in classroom teaching for the deaf as they provided information that teachers could utilize as a base for a transition to the English language, cultural preservation, and public image development.

Impact of the Talkies to the Deaf As time went by, movie producers shifted from silent movies to talkies. They excluded the deaf people from access to mainstream American culture. In the early 90’s, both art and technology merged, giving rise to the movie industry. Silent films enabled the deaf to participate in that era as part of the audience, pedagogical beneficiaries, subjects for film scripts, and actors. Hollywood could not accommodate and plan for the deaf viewers when talkies took over the movie industry. Due to technology advancement…

[1] Jehoshua Eliashberg, Anita Elberse, and Mark Leenders. “The Motion Picture Industry: Critical Issues in Practice, Current Research and New Research Directions.” (Harvard Business School, 2004): 2-4.

[2] Meghan Donahue and Arleigh Tamlin. “The History of the Deaf Culture In American Cinema.” (2000): 274-8.

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