Nyle DiMarco Made Netflix's 'Deaf U' to Prove Deaf Culture Exists

“One of my biggest struggles in the last five years in the industry is that people don’t believe me when I tell them deaf culture exists,” DiMarco tells TheWrap

Nyle DiMarco has spent a lot of time on reality television. But while starring on “America’s Next Top Model” and “Dancing With the Stars,” he noticed that the questions posed to him almost always revolved around the fact that he’s deaf — not about who he is as a person.

Enter his own reality docuseries, “Deaf U,” out Friday on Netflix, which follows a tight-knit community of young students at Washington D.C.’s Gallaudet University for the deaf and hard of hearing.

DiMarco, who executive produces the series, hopes it will convince viewers of something he feels has often been doubted in the past: deaf culture exists.

“One of my biggest struggles in the last five years in the industry is that people don’t believe me when I tell them deaf culture exists,” DiMarco told TheWrap in a video interview with Greyson Van Pelt serving as his American Sign Language interpreter. “But now I can tell them, watch the show.”

DiMarco, who attended Gallaudet back in 2007, also hopes that the show will help hearing people relate to deaf people in new ways.

“Anytime I would try to explain deaf culture or Gallaudet University, it seems that was a really new concept for people,” he said. “I realized that Gallaudet was a perfect entry point.”

In the interview above, DiMarco explains more about the casting process, what he hopes hearing audiences will learn from the show, and how the deaf community has been impacted by COVID-19.

What motivated you to make “Deaf U”?

The reason I wanted to make the show was I had gone through several runs on reality TV myself — I had done “America’s Next Top Model” and “Dancing With the Stars” — and the questions were always quite limited. It was always limited to my deaf experience and it was never specifically about my personality or who I am. It really made me realize that anytime I would try to explain deaf culture or Gallaudet university, it seems that that was a really new concept for these people, so I realized that Gallaudet was a perfect entry point.

What do you hope “Deaf U” will teach American and international audiences about the deaf community?

This is the first time in Hollywood history that this has ever been done. We’re providing a deep dive into deaf culture. It’s really the first of its kind, and I’m so thrilled to have partnered with Netflix in order to do it. I really hope the takeaway is that deaf culture and the deaf community really exists. One of my biggest struggles in the last five years in the industry is that people don’t believe me when I tell them deaf culture exists. But now I can tell them, watch the show.

How has COVID-19 impacted the deaf community in terms of mask-wearing and not being able to read lips?

To be honest with you, I didn’t realize how stressful an experience this would be. Luckily, I’m a pretty good lip-reader and I get by with it, but with masks, obviously, it really limits my ability to communicate. Everyone is really exhausted from being at home, they’re tired of it, and working with hearing people who are screaming through their masks at the store — it’s like, “Ugh, I’m deaf!” I, obviously, can’t tell they’re talking to me. I think it’s more about awareness and it’s key that everyone understands that we’re all going to be approaching those situations differently. I think what does make it worse a little bit is deaf children are really experiencing the worst impact. Often, deaf children go to school, where they find their only access to sign language. Now, being in quarantine or isolation with their hearing families who typically do not know sign [language], their access to language and their ability to progress is really limited, and I feel very concerned for them.

Do you know of any ways these difficulties are being combated? I’ve heard that clear masks are being used in hospitals, for a start. How has the pandemic impacted students at Gallaudet in terms of online learning?

The clear masks honestly are a little bit helpful. We’re very lucky that the school system was able to switch over to Zoom and offer a little more access. Now we can be in a visual environment where we can sign, which is great. But, unfortunately, not every deaf individual out there has access to wifi or a laptop required to connect. Deaf people essentially are on our own to figure out the best system. Shoshannah Stern, for example, started an incredible project called #OperationASLStorytime, which films deaf creators reading storybooks to kids in American Sign Language to keep them interested, keep them learning, and keep them taken care of. Unfortunately, we’re in a really tough situation with this pandemic.

How did you select the stars of the show during the casting process?

“The overall process was pretty interesting. We had open applications, of course. Some students we actually discovered through Instagram. Others were recommended to me through friends in the deaf community. It’s a tight-knit group, so I had a couple of degrees of separation. Throughout the process, I was really, really impressed by the level of diversity and layers we were able to find within the deaf experience, whether that was from race, sexual preference, orientation or gender. And their backgrounds — their language fluency and experience, whether it was going to a deaf school or maybe a small deaf school — some of our cast came from a hearing program where they were the only deaf kid in school. Some of our cast had great degrees of language fluency, variation. Some were coming in completely fluent and others were discovering that and I really wanted to showcase that.”

Do you keep in touch with the students from the show, and have you become a mentor to them?

Of course! I keep in touch with a few of them. I always, always am here with an open door for any of them. Whether it’s something they’re curious about reframing or just their general representation in the media, of course, I’m here to help. I do get a few questions here and there specifically about articles and how to respond to the newfound attention. I know that journey very well, specifically my experience with “ANTM” where I was thrust into the spotlight. It’s not an easy journey, so I’m always here to support them.

Would you want to make more seasons of the show if it gets renewed?

Fingers crossed. That truly is the goal. There is so much more to the deaf experience that we haven’t even touched. This show explores a lot but this is the tip of the iceberg and I am so thrilled and looking forward to future seasons.

20 Unscary Horror Movies, Starting With Jennifer Aniston's 'Leprechaun' (Photos)

  • The Halloween season is the best time to binge-watch frightening and down right disturbing movies. But there are also some horror films that — without meaning to — might just make you laugh, or grimace, because they fail to scare. Here are 23 horror movies that probably won’t make you scream. 

  • ‘Maximum Overdrive’ (1986) 

    A horror film turned dark comedy starring Emilio Estevez, “Maximum Overdrive” exemplifies why Stephen King has not directed a horror movie since 1986. Taking place in a small North Carolina town, the film explores the chaos that ensues when daily household machines, from lawn-mowers to big-rig trucks, seek to exact murderous revenge on the human race. Though the juxtaposition between King’s horrific mind and his campy film direction may be the only shocking aspect to the flick, the effort one takes to enjoy “Maximum Overdrive” as a comedy rather than a horror film is well worth it in the end.



    De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

  • ‘Leprechaun’ (1993) 

    An evil leprechaun, played by Warwick Davis (“Willow,” “Star Wars” movies), stops at nothing to find every last bit of his gold in this campy 1990s flick. Hand it to pre-“Friends” Jennifer Aniston for doing her best, considering a flat plot and even blander writing. From Davis’ cartoonish monster mask to the film’s ludicrous one-liners, “Leprechaun” has a better shot at cracking you up, rather than causing you to crack from fear.

    Trimark Picutres

  • ‘Wolf’ (1994) 

    What do you get when you combine a work demotion, a love triangle and werewolves? An overall spook-less experience, starring Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfieffer, that takes itself too seriously to thrive as a horror film. Though “Wolf” displays impressive horror make-up, its subliminal dialogue about human nature encourages audiences to think rather than freak. 

    Columbia Pictures

  • ‘Anaconda’ (1997) 

    When a team of documentarians and a snake-hunter in the Amazon forest encounter a giant, man-eating snake, things get a little twisted. Featuring an all-star roster that includes Owen Wilson, Jennifer Lopez and Ice Cube, the 1997 adventure horror picture relies too heavily on its absurd low-quality CGI villain to instill a sense of fear.

    Columbia Pictures

  • ‘Urban Legend’ (1998) 

    Starring Jared Leto and Alicia Witt, “Urban Legend” takes an amalgamation of age old superstitions and myths and presents it in an unoriginal slasher format. Pendleton University student Natalie Simon seeks to get to the bottom of a string of urban legend-inspired murders affecting her friends and loved ones, before she becomes the killer’s next victim. Debuting nearly two years after “Scream,” “Urban Legend” fails to bring anything original or particularly scary to liven up its lifeless and cliched plot.

    TriStar Pictures

  • ‘Phantoms’ (1998) 

    Starring Ben Affleck and Rose McGowan, this 1998 film adaption of a Dean Kootz novel recounts the tale of small-town Snowfield, Colorado, plagued by a subterranean entity. The visiting Lisa Pailey (McGowan) and local police (one of whom is Affleck) team up to combat the mysterious force. Though “Phantoms” makes for cheap thrills, with some unexpected jump scares, its convoluted storyline and shoddy special effects warrant more chuckles than scares.

    Miramax Films

  • ‘Psycho’ (1998) 

    Some say imitation is the best form of flattery, but this horror remake feels more like a low-quality copy-and-paste of the 1960 original. Vince Vaughn, starring as Norman Bates, struggles to display the unnerving delivery demonstrated by his predecessor Anthony Perkins.

    Universal Pictures

  • ‘Book of Shadows: Blair Witch’ (2000) 

    Shortly after the widespread popularity of “The Blair Witch Project,” this followup film tracks a group of graduate students who visit the eerie town of Burkittsville, Maryland in the hopes of experiencing the Blair Witch for themselves. Falling in the shadows of its incomparable predecessor, “Book of Shadows” lacks originality but tries to compensate by predictably borrowing elements from the first film in the franchise.

    Artisan Entertainment

  • ‘Thir13en Ghosts’ (2001) 

    Following the death of his ghost hunter uncle, widower Aruther Kriticos (played by Tony Shalhoub) inherits his uncle’s estate, a large glass house also inhabited by 12 captive ghosts. Whether it’s the goofy dialogue or the silly-looking ghosts, “Thir13en Ghosts” provides a nonsensical experience that no amount of star power, smog or flashing lights can save.

    Warner Bros. Pictures

  • ‘Secret Window’ (2004) 

    A psychological thriller with a horror movie twist, David Koepp’s “Secret Window” centers around recently divorced writer Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) and his quest to define a perfect ending for his upcoming novel. When an unknown man by the name of John Shooter (John Turturro) accuses Rainey of plagiarism, Rainey begins to recall the violent reality of his actions. “Secret Window,” more confusing than haunting, not only paints a bad picture for those suffering with mental illness, but also leaves the audience with an unmoving, unclear, albeit supernatural ending.

    Columbia Pictures

  • ‘House of Wax’ (2005) 

    Not even Paris Hilton could make “House of Wax” fabulous. In the 2005 flick, a group of college students on their way to the big game find themselves at the mercy of strangers and stranded miles away from the nearest city, where the main attraction is the abandoned Trudy’s House of Wax. While exploring a small town’s museum, the group discovers a disturbing truth behind the seemingly perfect wax figurines that forces them to find a way out. A lackluster and accidentally comedic remake of the 1953 original, “House of Wax” gives an OK addition to the slasher genre.

    Warner Bros. Pictures

  • ‘Cursed’ (2005) 

    A film fit for Halloween,”Cursed” stars Christina Ricci and Jessie Eisenberg and hails from prolific slasher film director Wes Craven. This movie promises a fun watch, though it’s not scary because it’s a hyper-aware horror parody. Victims of an initially unknown infection, siblings Ellie and Jimmy Meyers attain werewolf abilities while sleuthing to find the epidemic’s origins. Enter supernatural STDs and werewolf cat fights for added funny thrills.

    Miramax Films

  • ‘The Wicker Man’ (2006) 

    Policeman Edward Malus, played by Nicholas Cage, finds himself in an eerie, dystopian island when the search for his ex-fiancée’s daughter takes a wicked turn. The 2006 take on the 1973 film of the same name thrives with horror tropes like pentagrams, crows and disembodied laughs, but stumbles on itself with an utterly scattered, yet laughable ending that we won’t spoil for you here.

    Warner Bros. Pictures

  • ‘The Happening’ (2008) 

    Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel attempt to escape vengeful forces of nature that are eradicating the human race with air-born toxins. The movie manages to comedically weaponize trees and plants in what has little chance at being the poignant — and scary — eco-thriller it aspires to be.

    20th Century Fox

  • ‘Mirrors’ (2008) 

    Alexandre Aja’s “Mirrors” follows former NYPD officer Ben Carson (Kiefer Sutherland) turned abandoned department store night guard as he attempts to unravel the demonic background of his new workplace and protect his loved ones. While “Mirrors” presents an eerie narrative idea, it was panned for tripping on itself with an over-complicated plot, botchy dialogue and unnecessarily graphic imagery — making an overall unsatisfactory spook.

    20th Century Fox

  • ‘Paranormal Activity 2’ (2010) 

    Simultaneously a sequel and a prequel, “Paranormal Activity 2” stars Brian Boland and Katie Featherson in yet another found footage horror movie. This time documenting a family’s efforts to keep their baby boy safe from demonic forces, the second film in the franchise fails to move beyond its predecessor’s shadow.

    Paramount Pictures

  • ‘The Wolfman’ (2010) 

    Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins star in a lousy, CGI-saturated remake of a 1941 horror classic. Following a Shakespearean actor’s somber homecoming turned gruesomely violent, “The Wolfman” allows Del Toro to deliver nuanced performances as both the monster and victim of a supernatural family curse. However, not even the actor’s skills could compensate for the movie’s shoddy — and now dated — CGI job.

    Universal Pictures

  • ‘Slender Man’ (2018) 

    Starring Julia Goldani Telles and Joey King, this film, based on an urban legend, has the lowest Rotten Tomatoes score on our list. Though one can appreciate writer David Birke’s effort to create a cohesive narrative featuring the lore around the supernatural, slender character, the film ultimately features unoriginal scare tactics and boring storytelling, despite its talented cast. 



    Sony Pictures Releasing

  • ‘Truth or Dare’ (2018) 

    College students, played by the likes of Lucy Hale and Tyler Posey, find themselves in the hands of a blood-thirsty demon after playing a game of truth or dare in an abandoned church in Tijuana, Mexico. With a mostly predictable plot line and old fear gimmicks, the truth is this Blumhouse film didn’t dare to move beyond the typical techniques of cheap horror films.

    Universal Pictures

  • ‘The Nun’ (2018) 

    Joining the latest flick in the “Conjuring” franchise, “American Horror Story” star Taissa Farmiga investigates a Romanian monastery gone unholy. Similar to the other films in the “Conjuring” universe, “The Nun” seems to build its slow narrative around its plethora of jump scares, bringing nothing new or unexpected to the table.

    Warner Bros. Pictures

Even Stephen King couldn’t make his lone directorial effort scream-worthy

The Halloween season is the best time to binge-watch frightening and down right disturbing movies. But there are also some horror films that — without meaning to — might just make you laugh, or grimace, because they fail to scare. Here are 23 horror movies that probably won’t make you scream. 

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