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Authentic Sign Language

The signing in the film is authentic and will be appreciated by Deaf audiences worldwide. Robert DeMayo, a Deaf actor, teacher and the film’s ASL consultant, transliterated the script from written English into ASL taking into account the variations in signing related to socioeconomic status, cultural upbringing and local colloquialisms. On-set ASL coaching was provided to the actors to ensure the signing was accurate. Sabrina Lloyd studied sign language intensely for three months to prepare for her role as Mary Callahan taking both private and group classes as she did not know any sign language before this production. Margot Kidder, Robert Hogan, and Ashlyn Sanchez also learned ASL for their roles.

All Deaf Characters Played by Deaf Actors

Unlike other motion pictures that have used hearing actors to play deaf characters, Universal Signs advocates and promotes Deaf culture and Deaf performing artists as all Deaf characters are played by Deaf actors.

Modern-Day Silent Film

Universal Signs is a theatrical experience. Hearing audiences are completely absorbed because their senses are altered by the lack of spoken dialogue. They are more focused on the visual beauty and feel they “can’t look away” or they will miss something. In this way, the audience travels on a first-person journey through the Deaf world, truly stepping into the shoes of a Deaf person for 100 minutes. Rather than treating deafness as a physiological condition, hearing audiences are exposed to Deaf culture bringing about greater awareness of an under-represented American subculture.

Mary and Andrew in the museum.

Mary (Sabrina Lloyd) and Andrew (Anthony Natale) in the museum scene

Bridging Cultures

Universal Signs is a new experience for both hearing and Deaf audiences. Hearing audiences step into the Deaf world viewing a silent movie in a foreign language, and Deaf audiences can view a movie in their native language for the first time. Because of the perfect timing of the captions, the audiences laugh at the same time, cry at the same time, side by side. When watching other films with captions, the Deaf audience is often at a disadvantage and delayed, not able to catch jokes at the same time as their hearing counterparts. Universal Signs is neither strictly for the hearing audience nor for the Deaf audience — it bridges two worlds and cultures.

All-Original Score by an Academy Award®-Winning Composer

Academy Award® winner Joseph Renzetti painstakingly composed the entire film with an original score. The music sets the mood for each scene – haunting, yearning, flirty, even comedic at times. It is a prominent voice in the film because it does not compete with ambient noises or dialogue. The score is its own character in the film, relating more to the mood of the characters than the scene’s action. For hearing audiences, watching Universal Signs is similar to watching a ballet or old-fashioned silent movie. As in a silent film, the characters have their own theme music; Andrew’s theme is haunted, whereas Mary’s is light and uplifting.

Universal Themes

Although Universal Signs is told in an unusual way, it has a message that is understood across all cultural barriers. It is a universal story about connection, redemption, and love. It is an exploration of depression and overcoming personal obstacles, something that every human experiences. It shows that Deaf or hearing, we are all the same and experience the same emotions of joy and loss.