For many years, deaf and hard-of-hearing talent was overlooked for deaf character roles in both films and TV shows. Instead, most Hollywood directors and producers decided to cast hearing actors and actresses to play the roles of deaf characters in their entertainment. However, things are starting to change for the deaf community. Through the help of the #DeafTalent movement, which encourages deaf actors to be cast for deaf roles, we’ve been able to see a rise in natural talent within the last few years. Movies such as, ‘Baby Driver,’ and ‘A Quiet Place,’ as well as the TV series, ‘Switched at Birth,’ have brought awareness to the deaf community and opportunities for talented deaf actors and actresses.
Baby Driver drives awareness with CJ Jones
Deaf actor, CJ Jones, was cast as the character, Joseph, a deaf foster father in the 2017 film, ‘Baby Driver.” Jones helps shed light on the importance of American Sign Language (ASL), a form of communication that Joseph uses to “speak” with others. Audiences worldwide were moved by scenes that feature the main character, ‘Baby,’ placing Joseph’s hands on his music speaker as a way to bond through the beauty of music with Joseph in the best way possible, feeling vibrations. After the movie premiered, CJ Jones conducted an interview with Haben Girma, the first deaf and blind person to graduate from Harvard Law School. Girma is a motivational speaker and also offers diversity training. CJ Jones talks about what he hopes to achieve through his work, “My big goal is to educate young filmmakers, from high school to college, through film competitions. That’s where the awareness and experience of working with Deaf actors, directors, crews, writers, etc., will take place. It’s important that we actors go out and meet them so they become educated and write roles for Deaf actors. United we stand, divided we fall!” (Girma, 1). You can read through the full interview here.
15-year-old actress Millicent Simmonds paves the way in A Quiet Place
Released in 2018, “A Quiet Place,” directed by John Krasinski, features deaf American actress, Millicent Simmonds. “A Quiet Place” is a near-silent thriller that features a family living in silence, forced to communicate using sign language amongst terrifying creatures that hunt using sound. Millicent plays Regan, the deaf daughter of Lee (John Krasinski) and Evelyn (Emily Blunt). Her deafness is portrayed as an advantage and her hearing aid is used as a symbol of strength throughout the movie, empowering many deaf and hard-of-hearing viewers. In an interview with Now This News, Millicent goes into detail on what she hopes to see in the wake of the success “A Quiet Place” has seen: “I think it’s important in the deaf community to advocate for and be a representative for this story. A story that might inspire directors and other screenwriters to include more deaf talent and be more creative in the way you use deaf talent. I think that could be a wonderful thing to see. Not only deaf actors but other disabled actors, as well,” (NowThisNews, 1).
Putting us in their shoes
Featured on the Freeform channel (formerly ABC Family) from 2011 to 2017, “Switched at Birth” helped the deaf community breakthrough within Hollywood. Multiple deaf or hard of hearing actors were cast to play deaf characters, including Katie Leclerc, Marlee Matlin, Sean Berdy, and Nyle Dimarco. Not only did the series put us in the point of view of people with hearing disabilities, it also fought common stereotypes and misconceptions. “Switched at Birth” teaches us that not all deaf people are mute, read lips, or know sign language. Like the rest of us, every, each and every deaf and hard-of-hearing person is different. How they communicate depends on how they were raised and what is most comfortable for them. In 2013, “Switched at Birth” released an all-ASL episode in an attempt to immerse the audience as best as possible into the deaf experience. There is a scene where an alarm is going off in Bay’s (Vanessa Marano) house, and while the hearing are frantically running around, Daphne (Katie LeClerc), as well as the audience have no idea why because they can’t hear it. This is supposed to portray some of the confusion a deaf person can experience on a daily basis, being unable to discern the reasons why a hearing person would be acting a certain way based on noise.
The rise in media showcasing deaf and hard-of-hearing performers is a fantastic step for equal representation. Media will never stop needing closed captions to accompany it, but it brings equality to another level to feel correctly represented on the big screen. With the recent success of so many trailblazing pieces, we are looking forward to more deaf and hard-of-hearing artists to grace the stage with their amazing talent, portraying characters that give faith and inspire all of us.