MCU Deaf Representation

The Marvel Cinematic Universe is receiving a lot of praise over the release of its newest film, Eternals. In an attempt to not spoil the film for those who have not seen it yet, the film has given many of us something we’ve been waiting a long time for. It’s known that the film provides us with diversity and inclusion with its multiracial, multiethnic, and LGBTQ representation. With its diversity and accurate depiction of humanity’s faults and beauty, this cinematic masterpiece rightfully earns its recognition. 

Many on social media have taken an interest in the character Makkari, one of Marvel’s ten Eternals (or immortal beings with superhuman powers). Not only are fans gravitated towards the shipping (a term that refers to the desire or support of characters getting together) of fellow Eternals Druig (Barry Keoghan) and Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), or Drukkari, but what Makkari’s character, MCU’s first deaf superhero, represents. Aside from her super speed, Makkari’s ability to sense vibrations and remain unaffected by her sonic booms demonstrates the powers of Deaf Gain (W Magazine). The term, used in the Deaf community and now frequently mentioned in the mainstream, emphasizes the advantages of being deaf. Makkari’s character, thus, symbolizes and literally depicts the gainful abilities of the Deaf community with her superhuman powers. 

Marvel’s decision to depict Makkari’s character as a polar opposite from the comic books, not as a white hearing blond male, but a deaf woman of color, further emphasizes the significance of much-needed representation in film, media, and society. As Lauren Ridloff says in an interview with Cosmopolitan, “this film really is so much more than just a basic superhero idea. It’s actually about showcasing people that you see every day on-screen.” As a deaf actress, Lauren Ridloff was able to incorporate American Sign Language into the film through Makkari’s character. There is no universal sign language, although the film’s use of American Sign Language draws its audience to a willingness to experience diverse forms of communication.

Image courtesy of Bess Connolly on YaleNews

A Spark in Media 

Ever since audiences were gifted the appearance of Makkari’s character in the MCU, curiosity to learn sign language spiked worldwide (Independent). Ridloff praises social media and the internet, a place where “people are much more receptive to different forms of communication” (Cosmopolitan). The Deaf and hard of hearing community are using this willingness of receptiveness to promote more Deaf representation and awareness on TikTok. According to TeenVogue, Black Deaf TikTok creators (ie. Scarlet May, Otis Jones, Nakia Smith, and ASL interpreter Bree K. Jones) are sharing what it is like to live in a hearing world, to spread awareness of inaccessibility for those who are deaf and hard of hearing, and to integrate Black ASL into sign language conversations. Refuting assimilation to a hearing world, Black Deaf TikTokers use the platform to educate hearing individuals. 

However, Ridloff warns her fans of the dangers behind trying to learn sign language solely from media applications, “[…] with social media, you see a lot of TikToks and Instagram Reels of people who don’t really know it and they’re teaching people the wrong signs. It’s important to find the right resources out there to learn the language” (Cosmopolitan). Like Ridloff, I urge my readers to understand that it is still significant to know your sources. In other words, as we at MEDIAGIRLS know, social media spreads forms of misinformation. So, with respect to the language, the culture, and the Deaf community, if you are interested in learning sign language, please be wary of your sources. 

A Call For Action

Accessibility is still a relevant problem as the deaf and hard of hearing still experience exclusion with inaccessibility. Eternals, promoting open caption screenings of the film, has sparked a conversation about the need for improved accessibility in theaters. Similarly, Black Deaf creators on TikTok are urging social media platforms to incorporate close caption videos to acknowledge and include deaf viewers (TeenVogue). It is crucial that the Deaf and hard of hearing community not only see representation in film and media but should also be included in experiencing film and media like everyone else. 

Identity-Conscious Casting 

Identity-conscious casting is essential for the evolution of film, media, and identity expression. Different from color-conscious casting, identity-conscious casting stresses the importance of our intersectional identities. According to Victor Vazquez, a casting director and founder of X Casting NYC, identity-conscious casting “is about making space and embracing how actors and artists can bring their whole identities or even parts of their identities to a process, to a character. (HowlRound). Makkari is more than her disability; her character represents multiple identities. Ridloff’s own intersectional identity as a multiracial, Black and Mexican woman speaks to why a multitude of representations is important (W Magazine). 

Why Is This Important?

With representation and intersectionality,
characters like Makkari symbolize a way to liberate our own stories.

 “I can touch on my differences, my different intersectionalities of identity, and hope that, by bringing my story to the audience, people from marginalized communities will feel that there’s room for their own stories and their own narratives” (Ridloff, NBC News)

Makkari’s Deaf representation means that others can see themselves in a way rarely written before. But, the film also normalizes Makkari’s disability as Ridloff states, “we are so much more than just our Deafness or our disability. Hollywood is starting to bring in more stories that really invite people to be more creative about how people live” (Cosmopolitan). This form of normality reminds us of the true reason why representation is imperative. The inclusion of more characters like Makkari allows MEDIAGIRLS and the world to eradicate associations of otherness and accentuate normalcy. This way, we can all be seen and heard by those who may or may not reflect our own identities.  

Aryana Martin, Editorial Intern, is a student at Emmanuel College in Boston, Mass. She studies English with a double minor in Sociology and African and African Diaspora Studies. She’s passionate about reading, writing, learning, and creating new relationships and experiences. She is thrilled to contribute to the MEDIAGIRLS mission.

Featured image courtesy of Anthony D’Alessandro on Deadline

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