See takes place in the distant future, centuries after a deadly virus decimated humankind. Those who survived emerged blind. Jason Momoa stars as Baba Voss — the father of twins born with the mythic ability to see. Queen Kane, played by Sylvia Hoeks, is the ruler of the Payan tribe, one of the only places that still has electricity. In a world where sight is considered a forbidden heresy, she tasks her tribe with finding the children who are rumored to have this mythic ability.
In this world, books are seen as mystical or advanced technology because they don’t make a sound. People in this world don’t have to adapt to a sighted society, they just live in it while facing war, love, and even tenderness. And while the central plot point of the “sighted savior” is worrying, See is unprecedented in how it depicts blindness in a casual, everyday way.
See is one of many offerings in Apple’s new on demand streaming service called Apple TV Plus. Like all of the other content on the platform, the show features audio description in nine languages. None of these are region-locked, either. One nice surprise for me was that these tracks are mixed in Dolby Atmos, giving them a more three-dimensional quality.
Very few things about See‘s world are explained through dialogue, which makes audio description so vital. There are little things, like using a sword to determine the texture changes in the ground, to the use of an approximation of guide dogs. Character use ropes to effortlessly guide themselves from one place to another. All of this detail, thankfully, is conveyed through the audio description. The only disappointment for me was that the audio description writer and narrator weren’t credited at all. I can only identify Tansy Alexander as the narrator because she has described other popular titles, such as Stranger Things.
All of this is fantastic. But Apple’s screener platform for journalists isn’t as accessible as the service itself. The screener player has unlabeled buttons, which don’t play well with my desktop screen reader or Apple’s VoiceOver software. It also didn’t have audio description on any episodes. As a result, I could only watch the three episodes that were released at the time of this writing.
Those episodes portray a brutal world in which violence is an everyday fact of life. Even through that, though, there’s a tenderness in the portrayal of See‘s characters. They are strong, fierce, cunning. They are people and soldiers first. Their disability is just a fact of life, which is something I’ve never seen on TV. I’ve also never seen disability adaptations handled in such a casual, matter-of-fact way.
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Representation and Production
The difference isn’t just onscreen, either. From hiring visually impaired actors to bringing on blind consultant Joe Strechay (who is credited as an associate producer), See has involved disabled people throughout its production.
Bree Klauser is one of many visually impaired actors and actresses starring on See. According to her IMDB page, she is a New York-based singer, actress, voiceover artist, and songwriter who happens to have been born legally blind. Klauser earned her BFA in acting from Brooklyn College and is a long-time student of former Metropolitan Opera singer Francisco Casanova. She has full achromatopsia, which significantly impacts her visual acuity — even with correction, she is considered legally blind.
Klauser plays Matal, a warrior of the Alkenny tribe. And despite sometimes-harsh shooting conditions, her experience on See has been a positive one.
“It really was kind of an ensemble cast,” Klauser tells me. “Even though we had some big names, no one acted like a star. And especially us who worked in the Alkenny tribe, we spent many, many days in the wilderness, sometimes in the cold and the rain and the mud, trekking through water. It was really a bonding experience.”
It helped that the staff were extremely accommodating to her disabilities, too, far more than any other studio has ever been. Little things made a world of difference, such as sight lines not being an issue because eye contact wasn’t important. The cast and crew’s commitment created an environment in which everyone was able to able to work with one another, perhaps best exemplified in the filming of one scene in which Jason Momoa leads his people through a haka.
“It’s really just like unearthing this savage real rawness that’s inside you,” Klausner says. “And it’s from this collective energy. As an actor, to do that with this amazing group of people and feel so connected, it was really such a rush to be a part of. I remember just like being so happy that I was like in tears. I’m like, this is why I do this. This is why I’ve always wanted to do this for a living, to just be a part of storytelling at this level.”
Klauser is happy not just about See‘s portrayal of blind people generally, but blind women specifically.
“[It isn’t] a handful of archetypes that we’re used to seeing,” she says. “You know, the pigheadedly stubborn, doesn’t want to ask for help, or the victimhood kind of thing […] there’s like this weird kink with horror movies and blind women. And, yeah, I don’t know what’s up with that. But they’re always, like, the victim in a like a horror scenario. So, I’m really glad that we don’t see that. And especially the women that we meet in this show. They are certainly not victims. These are some strong bitches. So, yeah, I think they get that right.”
The visually impaired actors also gave valuable input on the script, which Klauser was pleased to see taken seriously. “They were very sure to listen to us if we ever felt like any of the language being used was ableist,” she notes, “or if something just didn’t make sense logically in this world of blindness.”
See is a step forward. And I think it’s the leap we need to introduce more shows with disabled characters, produced with the involvement of disabled actors and the input of disabled people. Klauser also thinks this is a big step, one long overdue.
“This is a big start to have low vision actors play these types of characters that are breaking the mold, breaking the paradigm,” she says. “And that’s what I would like to see: stories about blind characters where they’re not playing tropes. [Then] in the future, having visually impaired actors or any kind of disabled actors be in a story and the disability is just an afterthought.”