Listen 2 Us - Literacy, Self-Determination, and Interdependence for Nonspeakers

Deej, The Movie

About the film...

Abandoned by his birth parents and unable to speak for himself, DJ Savarese ("Deej") found not only a loving family but also a life in words, which he types on a text-to-voice synthesizer. As he makes his way through high school and dreams of college, he confronts the terrors of his past, obstacles to inclusion, and the sometimes paralyzing beauty of his own senses. In his advocacy on behalf of other nonspeaking autistics, he embraces filmmaking and poetry, and discovers what having a voice can truly mean. In this first-of-its kind collaboration between a veteran filmmaker and a nonspeaking autistic, Robert Rooy and DJ share editorial control as they navigate the challenges of representing autism. Deej, the result of this often difficult partnership, is a story told largely from the inside, by DJ -- not by his parents or autism experts or even the camera. At its core, Deej reflects the level of participation that disability rights advocates insist upon: "Nothing about us without us."




2017 Peabody Award Winner!


Peabody Award Committee's Description of the film Deej:


 2017 | American Documentary, Inc., WORLD Channel, Rooy Media LLC, Independent Television Service (ITVS)

DJ Savarese (“Deej”) is a nonspeaking young man with autism who communicates with others via text-to-voice synthesizer, and here, via documentary and poetry, tells his own story in a collaboration with co-director Robert Rooy. Deej refreshingly avoids the trap of speaking for a person with autism. Instead, the viewer hears Deej’s own reflections and editorial as he journeys through high school and seeks admission into Oberlin College as the institution’s first nonspeaking autistic student. Filmed over six years, Deej enjoys remarkable access but avoids brash intrusion precisely by allowing Deej himself to dictate the terms of engagement, to explain scenes and events, and to determine what we should hear or see. We also hear several of Savarese’s poems, beautifully accompanied by Em Cooper’s oil-painted animation. And just as Deej’s adoptive parents are guided by an ethos of inclusion, the film demonstrates how documentary engagement with autism can show its subject’s brilliance and accomplishment rather than dwelling on limits and barriers. Ultimately, Deej takes several masterful steps forward in inclusive filmmaking, while using Savarese’s poetry to offer an at-times soulful study of adolescence, leaving home, and becoming an adult. For this, “America ReFramed: Deej” receives a Peabody Award.


Go to the film's award page.