Marvel Cinematic Universe makes strides for Deaf awareness this November

"Lauren Ridloff" by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 Photo credit: "Lauren Ridloff" by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

A first for the filmmaking juggernaut, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) introduced its first hearing-impaired character in Chloe Zhao’s “Eternals” in theatres on Nov. 5.

Makkari, played by “The Walking Dead” alum Lauren Ridloff, is a primary member of Jack Kirby’s original groupings of the team. In Zhao’s first film since her award-winning “Nomadland,” the character reintroduces a speedster element that the MCU has not used since Quicksilver.

Despite being the first hearing-impaired comic book character to appear in the MCU or DC Comics film franchises, this is not the first time Ridloff starred in a movie featuring hearing-impaired superheroes. Ridloff performed alongside other Deaf performers in the Italian superhero film “Sign Gene: The First Deaf Superheros,” which revolves around powers gained from the loss of hearing and the performing of sign language.

Photo credit: Julia Monteiro Martins

Ridloff won’t stand alone as the representation for the Deaf community in the MCU for long. “Hawkeye,” the very next event on the Marvel calendar arriving Nov. 24 will change the landscape again.

Jeremy Renner’s titular archer was Deaf in the comic material for decades. While the topic wasn’t broached in Renner’s previous showings, trailers and set photos show the Avenger wearing hearing aids.

With Hailee Steinfeld as a second Hawkeye, their beloved pet Lucky the Pizza Dog and heavy influence from comic book writer Matt Fraction’s massively acclaimed 2012 run, the Disney+ miniseries establishes Renner’s Clint Barton as one of the most prominent hearing-impaired characters in pop culture.

Lynn Miskiel, Director of the University of Miami Debbie School Auditory Oral Program, works frequently with children who are deaf and hard of hearing. Miskiel discussed the positive impact on young audiences seeing heroes like themselves for the first time.

“We all want to be limitless, but we all have limits to overcome so for young people to see models of persistence in all realms is valuable,” Miskiel said. “Seeing characters that have different abilities reminds us that not everyone is the same but that everyone contributes.”

Also receiving her own Disney+ spinoff, franchise newcomer Alaqua Cox will debut in the “Hawkeye” series. Playing Maya Lopez, also known as “Echo”, Cox’s character is able to mimic the abilities of others.

Hopefully, more representation will arise across other platforms in the genre, potentially with the DC universe or Disney’s “Star Wars,” promoting more of their own characters with similar backgrounds.

“Having writers, actors and other members of the media that are diverse enriches the perspectives included in scripts and deepens the humanity that is represented,” Miskiel said. “Being able to recognize ourselves in the characters makes us love these fantasies all the more.”

Featured image “Lauren Ridloff” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0