‘Deaf President Now’ Movie In Works Based On Watershed Protests At Gallaudet University

EXCLUSIVE: The story of the real-life 1988 protests at all-deaf Gallaudet University that became a watershed moment for the deaf community in the U.S. is being turned into a feature film. Jules Dameron, a Gallaudet alum, wrote and will direct Deaf President Now, which is now casting and aims to begin production later this year.

Sam Sokolow (Nat Geo’s Genius) and Steven Posen are producing the pic along with PhilmCo’s Jonathan Prince and Peter Samuelson. Amy Lanier and Bruce Daitch are executive producing. The team said it is committed to a mixed ASL/English-language production. “We intend this to be the first mainstream film to be fully integrated with a deaf-oriented crew and set,” Posen said.

Posen originated the project with Dameron to tell the story behind the uprising at the Washington DC university, at the time the only all-deaf college in the U.S. The student-led protests stemmed from the university’s board of trustees choosing the sole hearing candidate among a group of three to be the school’s new president, despite growing sentiment from the community during the recruitment process that it was time for a deaf leader.

The protests, and its phrase “Deaf President Now,” shut down the campus, drew supporters from around the country and garnered national attention via the likes of ABC’s Good Morning America and Nightline. (Marlee Matlin, who had won the Oscar for Children of a Lesser God two years earlier and now stars on the current Best Picture Oscar-nominated CODA, was among those interviewed on that Nightline.)

After eight days, all the protesters’ demands were met, with the president-elect, Elisabeth Zinser, resigning, and I. King Jordan, who was deaf, named president. It was considered a landmark moment advancing inclusion and civil rights within the community.

Dameron, a deaf artist and director whose helming credits include the Norwegian series Møkkakaffe (Bad Coffee) and the D-PAN series Reverse Polarity, worked on the project with co-producer Jackie Roth (Oscar-nominated Sound and Fury), one of the key leaders of the Deaf President Now protests. She was also an advocate on behalf of the Gallaudet women, who faced the extra burden of gender bias, an avenue Dameron explored in her script.

I’m looking forward to helming a compelling vision that hopefully results in a story that empowers deaf people, particularly deaf women,” Dameron said. “I’ve needed this for myself as a queer deaf woman, so it’s now my turn to give that back.”

Said Roth: “Deaf President Now captures the electric and galvanizing moment that jumpstarted the unpacking of – and the journey to – embracing cultural identity of the deaf community. As a deaf child of deaf parents, this fight was personal. It was time that we deaf people, stood tall, that we made clear we would not be dismissed.”

“This was a watershed moment in the deaf community’s history that actually helped shape the Americans With Disabilities Act, as well as the broader civil rights movement,” Sokolow said. “We’re honored to help bring this important and empowering story to the screen led by such a profound and exciting new voice we found in our writer-director, Jules.”

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