Marvel’s first deaf superhero: a first step for disabled filmmakers

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Marvel’s Eternals, the latest big-screen installment in the film franchise, hit theaters on November 5, with actress Lauren Ridloff leading the way as Marvel’s first deaf-screen superhero. Ridloff, who also starred in the popular series The Walking Dead, expressed his enthusiasm for representing the deaf community during the film’s public announcement a year ago: “I am more thrilled than upset to have the opportunity. to represent the deaf community. I’m very happy with this, just to bring this scenario to the MCU. I think there is a lot of room for more stories like this, ”Ridloff said in an interview with HeyUGuys.

Its inclusion in the film turns out to have a real impact, even before its premiere. Since the cast of The Eternals was officially announced in July 2019 at San Diego Comic-Con, there has been a 250% increase in internet searches for beginner’s interest in sign language. Yet film industry professionals and Deaf moviegoers seek further systemic change for the inclusion of Deaf people in film and television.

Jade Bryan, filmmaker, writer and creator of #DeafTalent movement, has championed the creators of Deaf films throughout his professional career. Bryan, in fact, chose Ridloff in his first film in 2001, “If You Could Hear My Own Tune” ”“ I’m an activist. I am very vocal. There is not enough visibility on the Black and BIPOC Deaf actors behind or in front of the camera and on the big screen. Bryan said. In 2015, she told Marvel and DC a story about a black Deaf superhero, championing a “spotlight on multicultural and racially diverse Deaf talents playing superhero roles in film and television.” There are a number of deaf and hard of hearing superheroes featured throughout Marvel and DC comic book history, such as the popular hero of Avenger, Hawkeye, who goes deaf and uses ASL to communicate as early as the 1983 hero comic book series. Jeremy Renner, who plays the character, is also shown wearing hearing aids in the latest disney + series, “Hawk Eye”.

However, Ridloff’s character Makari is the first Deaf Black female superhero to be depicted in a large series of images on the big screen. The lack of inclusion on screen and behind the scenes of people with crossed identities such as Ridloff’s has proven to be historically rare in the casting world. According to a report by DisabilityScoop, “In an analysis of the 100 highest grossing films of 2019, researchers found that the disabled community was missing of 48 of them. Additionally, 77 of the films did not have any female characters with disabilities.

Bryan used his branded hashtag, #Deaf Talent, on social media to not only raise awareness of Deaf talent in the making, but also to congratulate black and Deaf creative women who are industry veterans, like actresses Michelle Banks and Natasha Olifi, who plays Haily Cooper in Spiderman: Miles Morales video game.

Fortunately, audiences are now demanding more diverse films for their dollar. According to 2021 UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report, “Films with actors who were at least 21% in the minority enjoyed the highest online viewing ratings of any racial group in the all-important 18-49 age group.” However, the report also states that “people of color and women are still under-represented as writers and directors and usually direct low budget movies.

Yet Lauren Ridloff’s lead role in The Eternal’s has drawn worldwide attention not only to the historic and continuing exclusion of the Black Deaf filmmakers from popular media, but also to the pressure. accessibility issues for moviegoers who are eager to enjoy these performances. Marking its impact on the industry is proving to be an important first step towards a future of inclusiveness for filmmakers, film actors and moviegoers.

Natalie Crystal Doggett

About the Author: Natalie Crystal Doggett is a member of Accessibility by Loreen Arbus is a fundamental program, an inaugural scholarship created to train women with disabilities as professional journalists so that they can write, research and report on the most critical issues impacting the disability community.


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