Superpowers and Deafness. Has Inclusion Reached a Tipping Point?
Just days after the new year, another pop culture event is upon us: Eternals, the latest Marvel movie release on Disney+, and it just might be the most important release from Marvel thus far!
Why’s that? Because we are witnessing a paradigm shift in moviemaking — and perhaps in our global culture.
In this new Marvel release, Lauren Ridloff, a two-time Miss Deaf America winner, plays the role of Makkari, a superhero with phenomenal speed. In the vintage print versions of the franchise, Makkari was a white, hearing guy. This time around, Makkari is a black and Deaf woman!
“What’s powerful about Makkari is being adapted from this hearing, blond-haired, cisgender, straight white man to myself, I think shows what we call Deaf Gain.”
While some Marvel story originalists are calling foul, an unstoppable movement is happening. It’s possible that the Marvel publishing house may simply be jumping the gun on a convenient fact that Eternals characters have the capacity to modify their appearance during their rebirth every 20,000 to 25,000 years. Or it may simply be that inclusion has hit Hollywood head-on.
A real cultural movement is taking place with a freshness that’s shaking up the hackneyed clichés of cinema — ushering in a vision of the world that embraces difference. Imagining a “different world” and accepting difference in a positive light: these are the promises of diversity.
From the perspective of those who are deaf or hard of hearing, it is a strong symbol. Portraying the role of Makkari, as a black, deaf actress, is a step in the direction toward a more open and optimistic world — and a positive vision of society to generations new and old.
As Ridloff told The Hollywood Reporter: “I feel like seeing Makkari on the screen is, first of all, so important for the deaf community. We need a superhero that represents us, and as I said before, growing up, I didn’t dream of becoming an actor because I didn’t see enough of myself on the screen. I didn’t get to dream that big, so now, with Eternals, I’m hoping that more people will be able to dream bigger. If I can do it, they can do it. What’s powerful about Makkari is being adapted from this hearing, blond-haired, cisgender, straight white man to myself, I think shows what we call Deaf Gain. In the deaf community, we talk a lot about Deaf Gain when there are times that we’re just lucky to be deaf.”
Does Ridloff’s transformation of the role of Makkari change society or is it a reflection of a changing society? It’s similar to MTV’s Real World portrayal of gay culture in the early ’90s. Did it document it or did it alter perceived notions and make it more accepted?
It’s the eternal paradox of which came first, the chicken or the egg — but does it really matter if pop culture is changing society or reflecting it? Perhaps what matters is the inevitable inflection point we seem to be in for Deaf culture and culture at large — and the fact that there’s no turning back. Diversity and inclusion may ebb and flow but there is no stopping its impact and the acceptance of difference.
Let’s face it, we’re not movie critics at Ava. And claiming that Eternals is THE best Marvel movie, or 3rd best, may not have much influence in the world. But there’s no denying that we are seeing the advent of a SINGULARITY, and it is crucial.
While younger generations are sharpening their vision of the future by munching on popcorn while watching a deaf superhero, Ava is helping deaf and hard-of-hearing people (with or without capes) participate more at work and class by easily understanding conversations through fast and accurate real-time captions. And we hope we’re helping breathe positive energy into the worlds of deaf employees and deaf students, as well as their companies and schools. Check out, Eternals, we recommend it, and then let’s talk together about inclusion and taking action in a world that isn’t fantasy or sci-fi.