Many hearing people don’t understand or have never experienced what it’s like to be deaf, and the new movie “Sound of Metal” tries to bridge that gap.

“This film is told from a hearing perspective, and that’s obviously my world as a hearing person,” director and co-writer Darius Marder said in a panel Sunday for the film at the virtual AFI Fest, which runs through Oct. 22. “It’s an invitation into deaf culture and a celebration of an aspect of deaf culture.”

“Sound of Metal” (in select theaters Nov. 20 and streaming Dec. 4 on Amazon Prime Video) stars Riz Ahmed as a heavy-metal drummer named Ruben who loses his hearing, his livelihood and his bandmate/lover (Olivia Cooke) but begins to find his way at a halfway house for deaf drug addicts run by a man (Paul Raci) who takes a special interest in his plight. The film, which uses closed captioning throughout as it makes the viewer experience Ruben’s hearing loss, is now available to stream as part of AFI Fest.

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How Riz Ahmed's 'Sound of Metal' aims to bridge important gap between hearing audiences, deaf community

On a gut level, Ahmed – who learned American Sign Language as well as how to drum for the role – liked that “Sound of Metal” explored someone who has to reimagine his identity because it’s “something that is constantly shifting and evolving, either because we evolve or because the labels project onto us evolve.” The British-Pakistani actor said someone like himself “would have been considered Black in the U.K” in the 1980s, because it was a “political term,” while today “the label strung around my neck” is British Muslim. 

“As much as identity can root us, it can also trap us,” he added. “These labels can prevent us from making new connections, from walking across bridges and reimagining what our social circle or friendships or identity can be. In an era of identity politics, it’s fascinating to tell the story of a character where you realize how identity itself is a kind of vapor.”

“Sound of Metal” also shines a light on persistent challenges faced by people with hearing loss. “There’s a complete disconnect between the deaf community and Hollywood,” said Nanci Linke-Ellis, who’s worked for decades on bringing deaf accessibility and inclusion to movie theaters. “It’s a work in progress. Films like this help progress it.”

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How Riz Ahmed's 'Sound of Metal' aims to bridge important gap between hearing audiences, deaf community

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