Everett’s Cheyenna Clearbrook was already a social-media maven before Netflix came calling. But now her online influencer status may be poised to grow beyond her 23,000 Instagram followers and 114,000 YouTube channel subscribers, with the premiere of “Deaf U.”
Streaming on Netflix starting Friday, Oct. 9, the reality series follows a handful of students at Gallaudet University — aka Deaf U — in Washington, D.C., including Clearbook.
Model/actor/deaf activist Nyle DiMarco, an executive producer on “Deaf U,” says the series grew out of a desire to show how layered the deaf community is.
“This is a very tightknit group of cast that we have who all come to the table with different stories, different histories and a lot of drama,” DiMarco said through an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter during an August Netflix teleconference. “But the point of it all is that deaf people are human, the same as hearing people. We go through the same things in life. We live, often times, in parallel, and you’ll see that through this show.”
Clearbrook, in particular, offers a perspective on the stratified nature of the deaf community.
“I do have a deaf family, but we are from a mainstream school experience,” she says through an ASL interpreter. “We interacted with our hearing family and it was a different experience for us because I was mainstreamed. I did go to one year of deaf school [prior to Gallaudet] but I didn’t continue. More often than not, I would be with a hearing community. So being and going to Gallaudet and seeing an all-deaf community was really a huge difference for me.”
And it’s not always a welcome difference in “Deaf U” as Clearbrook voices her displeasure with the “deaf elite,” which she describes as those from a large deaf family with a strong deaf identity and easy access to deaf culture.
“I grew up mainstream so I’m used to being with the hearing population and culture,” she says. “I didn’t have a lot of access to deaf culture until I entered Gallaudet. And then I was able to see the invisible bubble of security in everyone understanding each other. I got used to it and I identified as a deaf person, but in leaving Gallaudet, I realized it’s a different world.”
Currently enrolled at Washington State University and anticipating a December graduation with a major in humanities, Clearbook is a 2017 graduate of Edmonds-Woodway High School. She says with on-camera experience on her close-captioned YouTube Channel, she was better prepared for filming “Deaf U.”
“But it was a little different with a lot of crew members that were watching,” she says. “And then after that it felt weird to have no one there.”
Clearbrook says she’s nervous about some revelations she makes toward the end of “Deaf U” about a childhood trauma, but she says she opted to discuss it as part of her healing process. She says producers did offer “talking points” of things they encouraged the cast to discuss.
For now she’s focused on her influencer role, but she hasn’t ruled out a Hollywood career with future plans to move to Los Angeles.
In 2015, Clearbrook starred in Seattle’s ACT Theatre production “Sound,” playing the daughter in a deaf family where the parents argue over whether the daughter should get a cochlear implant. In 2017, Clearbrook was involved in Book-It Repertory Theatre’s “El Deafo,” a play for children that traveled to schools.
Clearbrook says appearing on “Deaf U” is a way to show deaf people have the same experiences in college as hearing people.
“For me, it was like, if I go on this show it’s … an opportunity for other people in the world to see what it is that a deaf culture looks like,” Clearbrook says. “It just gives us a chance to share that, and I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity.”