Updated: Jun 23, 2021
By Robert Kingett
“Books are in the holy shape. They are silent, and yet, speak directly into the imagination.” Maghra in episode two of See, a science fiction drama produced for Apple TV+.
Disability representation in television and film matters.
Disabled characters in media rarely get a fair shake at representation, if even at all. In the extremely rare cases that a character with a disability has any agency, that character is bathed in a stereotype or the disability is obliterated altogether.
Upon first watching the audio described trailer for Apple’s original, See, about a blinded population of survivors centuries after a virus wiped out many humans in the past, I had questions. Two twins have the mystical ability of sight. Are they just convenient tropes or will they become an integral part of shaping the world, centuries beyond their passing?
These questions alone had me curious to check out this sci-fi fantasy. After all, I’m a sucker for Dystopian fiction and it was the first production by a major studio where blindness was just a way of life.
What is ‘See” about?
See takes place in the distant future, after a deadly virus decimated humankind. Those who survived emerged blind. Jason Momoa stars as Baba Voss — the father of twins born centuries later with the mythic ability to see. Queen Kane, played by Sylvia Hoeks, is the ruler of the Payan tribe. Queen Kane lives in one of the only places that still has electricity. In a world where sight is considered a forbidden heresy, she tasks her tribe with finding the children who are rumored to have this mythic ability.
See is a different world from our own. In this world, books are seen as mystical or advanced technology because they don’t make a sound. People in this world don’t have to adapt to a sighted society, they just live in it while facing war, love, and even tenderness. This is important because no other media portrays blindness in this kind of casual way even if it holds a worrying plot point. There’s a bigger picture than the sighted savior trope, after all.
A perspective about the audio descriptions from a blind journalist.
To illustrate how the population lives, very few things are explained through dialogue which makes audio description so vital. There are little things, like using a sword to determine the texture changes in the ground, to the use of an approximation of guide dogs. Ropes are used inside and outside to effortlessly guide people from one place to another. In this world, it would make sense that sight would be viewed as a form of dark magic.
See is just one of many offerings in Apple’s new on-demand streaming service called Apple TV Plus. Like all the other content, See has audio description in nine languages. No audio description track is region-locked, which is a great thing. One nice surprise was that the audio description is mixed in Dolby Atmos, which is something I wish more streaming companies would do.
The only thing that was disheartening to see was that the audio description writer and narrator weren’t credited at all. I can only identify Tansy Alexander as the audio description narrator because she described other popular titles, such as Stranger Things.
Apple’s screener platform is not accessible.
Unfortunately, Apple’s screener platform for journalists wasn’t accessible so I was limited to reviewing the described consumer episodes. The screener player had unlabeled buttons, making it very difficult and, even in some cases, unusable by both my desktop screen reader and Apple’s VoiceOver. The screener platform didn’t have an audio description on any of the episodes. And, in a show like see, audio description is vital to understand how the world is crafted.
At the time of this writing, only three episodes were available for me to watch as a consumer. Apple says there will be an episode released every week, but some shows have full seasons released.
But is ‘See’ any good?
Upon watching all available episodes, I was pleasantly surprised that Apple didn’t shy away from sex and violence. There’s a battle in the first episode and it is quite bloody. I definitely wouldn’t recommend this show for kids.
Even with the violence though, there’s a tenderness in the portrayal of all the characters. They are strong, fierce, cunning. They are people and soldiers first. Their disability is just a fact of life, which is something I’ve never seen on TV. I’ve also never seen disability adaptations handled in such a refreshingly casual way.
The difference isn’t just on-screen. Huge leaps were made with the inclusive nature of this production. From hiring visually impaired actors and actresses, to hiring a totally blind person as a frequent consultant. Joe Strechay is one of the many totally blind consultants. He’s credited as an associate producer.
An interview with Bree Klauser.
Bree Klauser is one of many visually impaired actors and actresses starring in this show. According to her IMDB page, she is a New York-based Singer, Actress, Voiceover artist, and Songwriter who happens to be born legally blind. Bree earned her BFA in acting from Brooklyn College and is a long-time student of former Metropolitan Opera singer Francisco Casanova and has studied with many other coaches and Broadway musical directors. She has full achromatopsia, which leaves her visual acuity about 2800. But with correction, it’s about 2250, but still not corrected to not be considered legally blind. One thing that really stood out to her, as she landed the part of Matal, a tactical warrior for the Alkenny hero tribe, is just how accessible the crew was, the crew was extremely inclusive, and she really enjoyed working with the other cast members.
“It really was kind of an ensemble cast,” Klauser said in an interview. “Even though we had some big names. No one acted like a star. And especially us who worked in the Alkenny tribe, we spent many, many days in the wilderness, sometimes in the cold and the rain and the mud, trekking through water. It was really a bonding experience.”
“The energy was infectious. It helped that the staff were extremely accommodating to her disabilities, too. Far so than any other studio has ever been. Klauser clarified,” I think one of the most exciting days on set was we were shooting a moment for Episode 1 that you’ll see where we’re preparing for battle. And it’s one of – I think it’s one of the first moments that you hear Matal and see her, right before this. And it’s this whole gathering. And then we do a haka, which Jason Momoa is a big fan of, and we have these Aztec death whistles that were blowing out. And I think you might see Matal for a quick second in there because we’re really absorbing the whole tribe and this – when you’re doing the haka, it just overtakes your body. These grunting and screaming sounds, it’s really just like unearthing this savage real rawness that’s inside you. And it’s from this collective energy.
And as an actor, to do that with this amazing group of people and feel so connected, it was really such a rush to be a part of. And I remember just like being so happy that I was like in tears. I’m like, this is why I do this. This is why I’ve always wanted to do this for a living, to just be a part of storytelling at this level. So that was really, really exciting. That was one of the up, up, up there moments.”
The portrayal of blind women.
Klauser’s extremely happy about the portrayal of not just the blind, but blind women especially. In addition to the many types of blindness portrayed within the show, something else Klauser’s happy about, her and I agree on the portrayal of blind women. ” But as far as it not being a handful of archetypes that we’re used to seeing,” Klauser said, “you know, the pigheadedly stubborn, doesn’t want to ask for help, or the victimhood kind of thing, something especially that I see a lot in other scripts that I’ve gotten is there’s like this weird kink with horror movies and blind women. And, yeah, I don’t know what’s up with that. But they’re always, like, the victim in a like a horror scenario. So, I’m really glad that we don’t see that. And especially the women that we meet in this show. They are certainly not victims. These are some strong bitches. So, yeah, I think they get that right.”
Participating in the show was, as Klauser puts it, a huge Burdon lifted off her shoulders because the crew was so accommodating, and the set was very accessible. It was the little things that made a world of difference, such as sight lining not being an issue because eye contact wasn’t important.
Visually impaired actors input on the script.
The visually impaired actors also gave valuable input on the script. Klauser was extremely pleased to see people taking script suggestions seriously. Klauser clarified, ” in the development of the script, because this is something that’s not based on any kind of other book or lore or whatever, it’s all being created by Steven Knight. And he said that it was from a dream or something, which is pretty rad. But they were very sure to listen to us if we ever felt like any of the language being used was ableist, or if something just didn’t make sense logically in this world of blindness.”
See is a step forward. Some may call it a shaky step. I certainly don’t. I think it’s the leap we need to introduce more shows with disabled characters, on an inclusive and accessible set.
I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Klauser also thinks this is a big step forward, long overdue. “Now, about the visibility and opportunity for blind actors, I think – I only hope that from this show that, first of all, visibility will increase, and that people will see, even though it’s not the numbers that we wish for, we wish that we could have like a full ensemble cast of low vision people, but we have to start somewhere. And we have to all recognize that this is a big start to have low vision actors play these types of characters that are breaking the mold, breaking the paradigm. And that’s what I would like to see, stories about blind characters where they’re not playing tropes, and where in the future maybe like having visually impaired actors or any kind of disabled actors be in a story and, like, the disability is just like an afterthought. Like maybe we don’t find out until you have a character, and we don’t find out until like Episode 5 or 6 that, oh, she happens to be visually impaired. I think that is the goal.”
Robert Kingett is an award-winning author for his essays that feature human stories, boldly told, and his fiction, where disabled characters live normal lives. When he’s not writing, he loves to listen to fiction podcasts. His website is blindjournalist.wordpress.com.