On the Rise of Sign Languages in Contemporary Film and Television

The 2023 HRC Future of the Humanities and Social Sciences Lecture

On the Rise of Sign Languages in Contemporary Film and Television

What can films and series in sign languages teach us about deafness and social power? What is the relationship between signed language and cultural identity, and how can the screen convey it in new and empowering ways? Cinema has a long history of effacing the linguistic complexity of sign, of casting hearing actors in deaf roles and of perpetuating tropes of silence as isolation and deafness as tragedy. These patterns were influenced by the broader history of oralism and audism in the 19th and 20th centuries. However, in the past decade, sign language cinema has not only exponentially grown, but it has begun to reflect more authentic Deaf perspectives.



This year’s HRC Future of the Humanities and Social Sciences Lecture takes contemporary, global film and television as its focus, to explore the ways our screens can both obscure and reveal the complexity of sign languages and their place in the world. It will examine a range of popular stereotypes in these texts, from the musician who tragically loses their hearing, to the deaf victim of a hearing stalker, to the hearing child of deaf parents who must serve as their bridge to ‘society’, to speak back to long-held misunderstandings about deafness and sign. It will also reveal a range of new texts which challenge these misconceptions, engage in new ways with sound, and radically present sign languages as complex, complete and empowering languages in the contemporary world.

This lecture is part of the Australian Research Council-funded DECRA project at the ANU, Sign on Screen, a collaboration with Deaf Connect and the National Film and Sound Archive which aims to discover how contemporary screens represent deafness and how sign language cinema filters Deaf and non-ableist perspectives.

This event will be accompanied by Auslan interpreting.

Light refreshments to be served following the lecture, from 6.30pm

Online Zoom webinar attendance which includes Auslan interpretration is available for remote attendees. Please select "Online Zoom Attendee" when registering and you will be provided with the Zoom link closer to the event date.


Dr Gemma King

Gemma King is Senior Lecturer in French at the Australian National University. Her research focuses on contemporary francophone cinemas and museums, as well as transnational screen cultures. From 2023-2026, she is an Australian Research Council DECRA Fellow on the project ‘Sign on Screen: Language, Culture and Power in Sign Language Cinemas’. She is the author of the books Decentring France: Multilingualism and Power in Contemporary French Cinema (Manchester University Press, 2017) and Jacques Audiard (2021), a volume in Manchester UP’s French Film Directors series.

If you require accessibility accommodations or a visitor Personal Emergency Evacuation plan please contact the event organiser.

Date & time

Wed 19 Jul 2023, 5.30–7.30pm


RSSS Auditorium, 146 Ellery Cres, ACTON & Online via Zoom


Dr Gemma King, ANU School of Literature, Languages & Linguistics


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