Patrick Mahomes may have been the MVP of Super Bowl LVII, but for music and film lovers watching at home, there was another star of the show — sign language interpreters.
The evening began with a performance of the national anthem by country star Chris Stapleton, which featured ASL interpretations from “CODA” Oscar winner Troy Kotsur. While it’s typical for national anthem performances to have sign language interpreters, they rarely feature such high-profile talent. The inclusion of an artist of Kotsur’s level resulted in ASL being folded into the performance rather than simply being brushed to the side.
In a recent interview with Variety, Kotsur explained that he agreed to be involved because he wanted the deaf community to enjoy a performance of the song with as much artistic heft as Stapleton’s.
“I have a lot of issues with the camera framing not really getting the signing and some of the politics behind it,” he said of past broadcasts that included ASL interpreters. “There’s a lot of issues. And music’s not really my thing — but of course I love sign language. It’s very poetic when you sign songs, but it’s a challenge to get the timing and the rhythm to sync up with the singers. But after I made the decision, I did a lot of research and analysis that really helped me get a better understanding of the author’s intention. I’m adding a little salt and pepper that will make it even more poetic, even more delicious. It’s a visual art. That’s my personal art form, as a visual performer. So I’m putting it all out there.”
Kotsur was far from the only ASL interpreter to capture viewers’ hearts on Sunday night. When Rihanna took the stage for her highly anticipated halftime performance, she was accompanied by ASL interpreter Justina Miles. The 20-year-old Philadelphia native previously went viral on TikTok for her lively ASL interpretations of pop songs, and she brought a similar energy to Rihanna’s performance. Her energetic interpretation drew rave reviews on social media, reminding audiences that ASL doesn’t just have to be a utilitarian add-on — it can be a part of a performance that enhances everyone’s experience.
ASL interpreter Justina Miles put on A SHOW during Rihanna’s halftime performance ✨
(via @NFL, h/t @RollingStone) pic.twitter.com/f5AbPxROIr
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 13, 2023
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