Well, it finally happened. I sat myself down in front of the television and rented Baby Driver. I know, I know, I’m about four months late to the game. I fully intend on playing the “new-mom-to-a-baby” card here, guys. I don’t think I’ve seen the inside of a movie theater in ten months. But I’ve been waiting for the rental to become available for weeks now and tonight I finally had a few hours free to watch.
And it was everything I hoped it would be.
I don’t usually write about movies on this blog. This space is for updates on my writing, insights into mommy-hood, and anecdotes about my dog that no one asked for (or even really needed). My highly-charged movie opinions (of which there are many) are typically reserved for my less-than-interested husband. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever written about or formally reviewed a movie after seeing it.
So this is a first. And I hope that speaks to how important this movie was to me.
And it was important.
Because this isn’t really a movie review I’m about to launch into. It’s a rant.
Baby (played by Ansel Elgort, who I will never not have a crush on) is a character who suffers from tinnitus following a childhood accident. He plays music in order to drown out the ringing in his ears. The entire first half of the film is a testimony to how he runs against the current of the outside word, moving and grooving to his playlist and constantly tripping over/bumping into/apologizing to people on the street. When he’s in his element he’s sharp as a tack, attentive, and a ridiculous driver. But day-to-day? He’s out of step.
In other words, he’s me. He’s the kid that no one thinks is paying attention. The one who comes across as rude, distracted, or even, as actor Jon Bernthal’s character suggests, “slow”. When he’s driving the getaway car, Baby uses music as a tool. But when he’s out and about in the city the headphone are a safety blanket. They’re a cover.
I know because I’ve been there. I know, because I frequently plug headphones into my ears on a trip to the grocery store or while out running errands. I understand, because it’s easier for people to think you can’t hear them over the music than for people to assume you just can’t hear at all. Or that you’re somehow less than intelligent. Or you’re a mute. Or, perhaps (and I get this one a lot because of my R.B.F.) that you’re just really, really rude.
I lost my hearing at age 4 to spinal meningitis. Unlike Baby, my world was completely silent before the Cochlear Implant. Like Baby, I had (and still have) tinnitus that kept me up at night–that sent me crying to the school nurse with a migraine almost every day. The minute my implant was turned on, I turned to music for comfort.
It’s no surprise that my infant (now 10-months old) is already babbling along to everything from the Beatles to Beyoncé, from the Beastie Boys to Broadway. My life is a soundtrack. Like Baby, I’m drowning out the noise. Music swallows the tinnitus. It keeps the quiet at bay. It helps me focus.
Deafness is called the invisible disability for a reason. Watching the character of Baby, I saw myself represented in a movie for the first time (you know, aside from the gun fights and the car chases and the bank heists). Not only that, I saw a character that represents me kicking ass on the big screen. In a mainstream Hollywood film.
I sat there with my mouth open thinking, “This is huge!” “This is a game changer!” “This is important!”
But here’s the kicker: No one else is talking about it.
I guess that brings me to the point of this entire late-night blog post. Deafness is an invisible disability. In spite of people like Nyle DiMarco making major strides in mainstream pop culture, deaf people as a community continue to be largely ignored.
Perhaps the most impressive part of the film was the role of Baby’s foster father, Joseph, played PERFECTLY by the scene stealing CJ Jones. He played his part with finesse, using ASL in conversation with Elgort in a way that was both seamless and genuine.
Baby Driver boasts such greats as Jon Hamm, Jamie Foxx, Lily James, and the ever-imposing Kevin Spacey, but it was Jones who stole the show. Imagine that. A Deaf actor–whose scenes were done entirely in ASL–was the shining star of a movie consisting of an A-list cast. His scenes with Elgort moved me to tears more than once, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
So why doesn’t it matter?
In a year when we’re fighting to tear down walls and become a more inclusive, more loving, more accepting society, why does no one seem to care?
I was right there celebrating with the rest of you when Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman hoisted her infamous shield and led the army across the trenches. I’m over the moon about the leaps women are taking in Hollywood, from demanding equal pay to nabbing headliner roles as the heroines. The princesses are saving themselves a lot more these days, and that’s amazing.
From strides in feminism, to race, to orientation, and to mental health, we are fighting the good fight for one another on all sides. We’re standing arm in arm on the steps of the White House, on the red carpet, in our own backyards. We’ve been allies cheering each other on in every small, hard-fought step in the right direction.
So why aren’t we cheering on this step?
Why are respected publications such as Forbes still writing articles with derogatory headlines such as, “The Americans with Disabilities Act Strikes Again“, following the request for a movie theater interpreter made by a deaf and blind individual? (The article can be read here, and I could write an entirely separate blog post about that one, but I won’t. Not today. I don’t have the energy.)
No one, at least no one I know, is talking about this kind of thing. Not the good, and definitely not the bad.
Are we less than? Are we not exciting enough?
Where are the people lauding a mainstream summer Blockbuster featuring ASL and a Deaf actor? Where’s the media plugs and the glowing reviews and the thought-provoking conversation for breaking through that glass ceiling? When does disability stop being invisible? When do our steps in the right direction start to get noticed?
These are questions that don’t have an answer in the middle of the night on a Saturday. But they’re my questions, and I’ll keep asking them.
And tomorrow, I just might watch Baby Driver again.