Insights January 22, 2024

Signing ‘Kenough’

By Living Word

A few months ago, we wrote about the growth of sign-language interpreting of live concerts in general, and the viral American sign language (ASL) performance of one of Rihanna’s appearances at the Super Bowl in particular. Now, the biggest Box Office success of 2023 is streaming on Max in the US with ASL interpreting.

It’s a move that’s been celebrated widely – and not just among spokespeople for those with hearing impairment, but among wider audiences who have taken to social media to encourage everyone to watch Barbie with ASL interpreting selected. Why? To show that there’s demand, naturally – that making films accessible is worthwhile.

It’s certainly not a mainstream view just yet, and the director of non-profit organisation Hear Entendre Québec told CBC that while it’s “a step in the right direction” inclusivity should be expected and available for all films. In addition, she explained, sign-language interpreting is merely one of a range of accessibility tools. Deaf people tend to be visual communicators and need sign-language, but people with other levels of hearing loss can use sound augmentation, captioning and speech reading in different combinations. “These are not interchangeable,” the director said.

That said, in fairness to Max, the decision to feature ASL performer Leila Hanaumi in the streaming of Barbie was based on research and feedback from the Deaf community. It’s a first for Max, and one that should surely be celebrated. Take the new compound word ‘Kenough’, for instance, for which Hanaumi had to be creative and change the traditional sign for ‘enough’ to incorporate a hand movement for ‘K’. The ASL performer, who has previous interpreted theatre as well as a version of a Tove Lo single, has since been hailed as a true movie star – and rightly so.

Sign-language interpreting and transcreation – new artistic expressions

Increasingly, sign-language interpreting is spoken of in terms of acting and performance, far more creative than the sentence-by-sentence live interpreting of real-life meetings and speeches. As transcreation enthusiasts, we can’t help but see a similarity between this creative form and that of transcreation as compared to straight-forward translation.

One study, published in the Journal of Interpretation, looked at interpreting for theatrical performances and found that ASL performers on stage tend to consider meaning, contextual factors, Deaf culture and ASL norms. It referred to “a comparable visual aesthetic to that of the auditory aesthetic”, one that considers “tone, mood and feeling”.

One university production with a so-called ASL shadow interpreted performance talked about moving “beyond accessibility and into a new artistic space”, adding depth to the performance “as the construction of an oral language into a visual language materializes in a way that supports the theme, delivery, and artistic expression of the show”.

The show is the same – it’s just the expression of it that changes. Isn’t that exactly what we always say about transcreation? Our clients know their products and brand values inside out, and we’re not here to question them. The linguistic delivery, however, we can make fly in any language and cultural context.

Love or loathe Barbie, you’ve got to give it to Max – they got this one right!