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Rihanna’s 2023 Super Bowl halftime show was undeniably a historical moment in pop culture. The 34-year-old singer, actress and businesswoman revealed her pregnancy while performing on floating platforms with hundreds of backup dancers on the field of State Farm Stadium in Arizona on Sunday.
But another performance has grasped widespread attention from fans, that of American Sign Language interpreter Justina Miles. The 20-year-old is arguably the real MVP of the 2023 Super Bowl, making history as the first deaf Black woman to perform at the most-watched annual sporting event in the United States.
Miles’ performance, live-streamed by Fox on YouTube during the game— showed her interpreting the lyrics of Rihanna’s songs like “Bitch Better Have My Money,” “All of the Lights” and “Rude Boy” in ASL, all while energetically dancing on beat with lively facial expressions. She did not take her role lightly, and her interpretations had many viewers wowed. Short clips of Miles’ performance were posted by viewers and quickly went viral on social media, with one TikTok video gaining more than 37 million views. Rihanna’s beauty line, Fenty Beauty, also recognized Miles for her jaw-dropping performance, commenting “You absolutely killed it!!!” on her Instagram post.
Miles also translated during Sheryl Lee Ralph’s pregame performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Known as the Black National Anthem, it was performed at the Super Bowl for the first time this year. These efforts represent another crucial step towards inclusivity and diversity in the NFL, something they have been making concerted effort to improve in recent years. Such as in March of 2022, the NFL’s Diverse Advisory Committee (DAC) unanimously adopted a resolution requiring all 32 clubs to employ a diverse offensive assistant, whether that may be a woman and/or a person of color.
Days prior to the faceoff between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles, a press conference was held at the Phoenix Convention Center.
“It’s not only for me to share this experience with the whole world,” Miles said. “But to really bring that empowerment to millions and millions of Black, deaf people all over the country who have never really seen that before.”
At the press conference, Miles sat alongside the two other deaf performers featured in the pregame show. Colin Denny, who is part of the Navajo Nation, interpreted Babyface’s rendition of “America the Beautiful” using a mix of ASL and North American Indian Sign Language. Actor Troy Kotsur, the second deaf man to win an Oscar award, signed the National Anthem, performed by Chris Stapleton.
Born in Philadelphia, Miles was the valedictorian at the Model Secondary School for the Deaf in Washington D.C. before choosing to study nursing at Bowie State University, a HBCU in Maryland, where she is also a cheerleader. She is also a talented athlete, and took part in the 2021-2022 Deaflympics in Brazil, winning a silver medal as part of the 4×100 women’s track relay team for the USA team.
Miles shared in the caption of an Instagram post, “Not only is it an overwhelming inspiration to be the first woman to perform at the pregame and halftime show, but to be Black and Deaf as well. That shows real inclusivity and big baby steps towards true accessibility.”
But this recent spotlight is not Miles’ first interaction with fame. She has previously gone viral and amassed a following on her TikTok account for posting videos interpreting popular songs, using that same level of passion she displayed during her Super Bowl performance. She posted a TikTok video in 2020 of her interpreting “Crush on You,” by Lil Kim, leading to one of her first encounters as an internet sensation after Lil Kim herself reposted the video.
According to Miles, the “buzz” she has created with her participation in the halftime performance was her main intention for bringing inclusivity towards the deaf community. The NFL’s decision to include ASL interpreters in 2022 has been groundbreaking, as it has drawn in a new audience, and the deaf community can now fully enjoy one of the most-watched events in America. Her history-making performance paves the road for deaf and hard-of-hearing people to be included in nationally televised events like the Super Bowl.
Miles wrote in a recent Instagram post, “After one of the biggest shows in the world provided that accessibility and took off, everyone should do the same. Everything should be available to everyone – equity.”