Reviewing American History
Video Review by Chris Wixtrom © 1998
American Freedom Speeches
Two VHS videotapes, 50 min. each; instructor's manual, 101 pp. $149.95
"Give me liberty, or give me death!"
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where
they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
(Martin Luther King)
Sigh! Reading these words makes me breathe deeply and stand up with my shoulders back. Proud. Free. Part of a great country. And now, seeing these speeches presented in American Sign Language - ASL - is another breathtaking pleasure.
The American Freedom Speeches videotape set gives us great moments of the past, presented by Deaf actors in ASL. Full of flag-waving energy and glory, Patrick Graybill, MJ Bienvenu, Mark Morales, and David Hamilton get into the spirit of their roles and offer viewers with fluency in ASL a value-added dimension.
Documents signed on the videotape are the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Pledge of Allegiance. Two versions of the Pledge are offered, one with signs in English word order, and the other most emphatically ASL. Also presented are portions of public addresses by Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Susan B. Anthony, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, Jimmy Carter, and Geraldine Ferraro. According to the manual, the selected documents and speeches represent those "generally familiar to culturally literate Americans."
Deaf reviewers evaluating this set made two comments. First, that it was clear. Second, that it was wonderful to have this important historical material available in ASL. The signing was well-paced, with one exception. Perhaps the rapid presentation of Susan B. Anthony's complaint helped pound home her points in the face of sixty-nine word sentences and descriptions of the evils of "an odious aristocracy" and "a hateful oligarchy of sex."
I respect the producer's choice not to record voice-overs for the speeches. After all, ASL is not a voiced language, and a written text is provided. However, I can't accept the excuse that "no voice-over could do justice to ... these great orators." If the signing actors' ASL translations do justice to the original material, surely talented voice actors could cope. Original audio recordings for six of the ten speeches are available, and might be dubbed in, to give hearing viewers handicapped by less-than-adequate sign skills an option to listen while they watch.
American Freedom Speeches is a grand prize. This video set shows off ASL and American history equally well. America is a nation "conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." At long last, those who use ASL have access to this ideal.