Treading Carefully with New Blindness Drama, See
A fantasy world in which everyone is blind, but also strong, capable, dynamic. It sounds amazing. It’s a show that is being launched today through Apple Inc.’s new TV streaming service, Apple TV+ — a new original drama entitled See. Watch the audio-described trailer here. This comes at a time when blind people are always wary of how we are portrayed in the mass media, based on decades of past bad experiences. Even with the promising premise, we are still cautious about the story line and concerned about the missed opportunity for more authentic representation.
We know a few things, but they still leave plenty of questions. We encourage readers to watch the show and share your thoughts; more on how at the end of this post. The information we do have is drawn from preview screenings of the pilot, discussions with Apple officials and others involved with the show, and external articles and reviews. Minor spoilers follow.
The story takes place after a virus destroyed much of humankind and left survivors blind—a characteristic that gets passed to descendants. Jason Momoa stars as Baba Voss, the father of twins born centuries later with the mythic ability to see. He must protect his tribe against a powerful yet desperate queen who believes sight is witchcraft and perhaps wants the children destroyed.
See’s first episode, while not cringe-inducing, left us uncertain. The conditions seem much better than the post-apocalyptic nightmare depicted in works like Jose Saramago’s novel Blindness and the movie based on it, but their tribal societies are relatively primitive. We wondered why the blind people of this new world, who are clearly competent and capable of organization and concerted action, are unable to build a technologically advanced civilization full of accessible gadgets. We also wondered about the purpose of introducing sighted characters into the story, whom some of the blind characters seem to view with reverence. The queen’s hostility toward the sighted seems to be motivated by a belief that their godlike, or demonic, powers are a threat to her. Are the sighted characters in fact being set up as supervillains, or as heroes who will come to save and lead the blind (as a development at the end of Episode 1 suggests)?
And why choose the title See for the drama in the first place?
On the real-world side, are any leading roles played by blind actors? How did the sighted actors learn about blindness and blind people? Apple has portrayed the show as a progressive, inclusive project that the blind community can embrace. Joe Strechay, a blind consultant who helped Charlie Cox prepare for his role in the Netflix series Marvel’s Daredevil, was hired as a consultant for this show and is credited as an associate producer.
Among other things Strechay worked closely with Momoa, who trained for his role under sleep shades for two weeks. The cast reportedly includes at least five blind actors. Marilee Talkington, an advocate for the authentic representation of blind people onscreen, appears to have a strong supporting role in the show. But by their own admission, the producers sadly missed the opportunity to cast Talkington or any other blind actors in leading roles with top billing. Producers have emphasized that most of the blind actors lacked experience and polish, requiring extra training to make up for that deficit. This may be true, but that is because there has been little or no effort in the entertainment industry as a whole to cultivate blind talent. Why was the effort in training blind cast members not explicitly directed toward cultivating any of that talent toward a leading role? Producers also praised some of the blind actors, including Talkington, and expressed the belief that, should the show have additional seasons, expanded storylines and additional roles will create more and better opportunities for blind performers. It’s unclear how many seasons are projected, though, and it may depend in large part on whether the first eight episodes are deemed a success. So Apple may have already whiffed on the chance to give a blind cast member a shot at stardom, although we hope that’s not the case. At the same time, See has already cast more blind actors than any other film or TV show that we know of, so progress, while perhaps incremental, has been made.
Since we only screened the first episode, and since Apple didn’t want to drop spoilers, other questions about the show’s story, world, and themes will have to be answered by watching it. So, watch away, and share your reactions in the comments below and via social media with the hashtags #Seeatv and #LetUsPlayUs.
- What do you think of the alternative techniques and environmental adaptations used in the fictional world full of blind people?
- Is there too much focus on blindness versus sight, or does the storyline expand to allow the many blind characters to become complex individuals, as Talkington asserts?
- What other reactions did you have while watching?
The first three episodes are available now. The program, like its trailer, is audio-described (as are all Apple TV+ offerings). A selection of posts about the show will be included in a future issue of the Braille Monitor. Here’s hoping for happy binging!
Important note: The show is rated TVMA and the pilot episode contained strong language, sexual content, and violence. Also, you’ll need to subscribe to Apple TV+ to watch it.