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Salem actor stars in feature film portraying the life of Jesus in American Sign Language

Salem actor stars in feature film portraying the life of Jesus in American Sign Language
Salem actor stars in feature film portraying the life of Jesus in American Sign Language

 


A feature film intended to make the life of Jesus accessible to the deaf community will premiere this week featuring the talents of a Salem actor.

Jesus is the first rendition of the Gospel entirely in American Sign Language and stars Miles Barbee as Peter.

Barbee, 31, is a residential counselor at the Oregon School for the Deaf and a professional actor. He connected with the intensity of Peters’ journey.

His belief, his denial, his doubt, was that he had the most action, Barbee said. Through its depiction of Peter's emotional journey in the film, I hope to touch people.

Barbee said the project is a group effort that shows what the Deaf community can accomplish.

It's not about me. “The whole movie, the cast, the crew, that’s what makes the team, the team that makes things happen,” he said.

Adapting the Gospel into ASL posed unique challenges. The actors worked with language consultants to change the language to fit the times, Barbee said.

The ASL sign for time, for example, involves pointing at the wrist, referring to a watch someone might wear. Because Jesus' life took place long before wristwatches, they instead used hands to indicate the position of the sun in the sky to refer to a specific time.

They also had to find a new sign to designate Jesus as Yeshua, before his crucifixion.

Barbee was born and raised in Springfield and graduated from the Oregon School for the Deaf in 2011.

He did not intend to become an actor after school, but began working as a crew member on ASL films and playing small roles. Several people encouraged him to audition for a deaf production of Spring Awakening.

They were looking for new, young, seemingly talented faces, he said.

Barbee was worried about live performances, which featured fewer opportunities to make mistakes, but auditioned and was cast in the lead role. The show opened on Broadway in 2015 and earned a Tony nomination for Best Revival of a Musical.

Barbee discovered he loved acting and soon took on other projects, including playing William Hoy, one of Major League Baseball's first deaf players, in the 2019 film The Silent Natural.

I love meeting new people and traveling to different places, Barbee said. I love taking Miles off and being a different person.

He returned to Salem in 2018 after spending about four years in Los Angeles to pursue an acting career and said he preferred a low profile to the glitz of Hollywood.

His friend Whitney Edmunson approached him about the Deaf Missions project.

She is hearing, but involved in the local deaf community and signed on to the film as a costume supervisor and sign language interpreter.

Salem actor Miles Barbee, left, with Whitney Edmunson and other Salem residents who appeared as extras in “Jesus,” a Deaf Missions film presenting the gospel in American Sign Language. (Courtesy Whitney Edmunson)

Barbee does not consider himself Christian and said the project featured actors from various religious beliefs and traditions.

He got involved because he wanted to help make the film the best it could be and said that on set there were many respectful discussions about spiritual matters.

Being fully immersed really helps open my eyes to understanding God, he said.

Production on the $4.8 million film began in July 2021 and filming will begin in April 2023.

It was filmed in Los Angeles as well as Texas, Utah, Louisiana, Iowa and as far away as Bulgaria, where scenes depicting King Herod, Pontius Pilate and the condemnation of Jesus were filmed.

The film premiered in Dallas, Texas in early April.

It was wonderful, Barbee said.

Edmunson said the film will be released in more than 250 theaters, with the goal of bringing Jesus to towns like Salem that have a large deaf population. The film also has English subtitles.

Jesus will have two screenings at the Regal Santiam on Thursday, June 20 at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday, June 23 at 2 p.m. Barbee will be at the theater an hour and a half before both screenings to meet people and answer their questions.

Contact journalist Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is the managing editor of the Salem Reporters. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She has been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she is a skater and board member of the Salems Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.

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