I recently went to the theatre to see the new horror movie, “A Quiet Place,” for two reasons: to be scared out of my seat, and to see John Krasinski, also known as Jim Halpert from “The Office,” on the big screen. I left the theater with both of those expectations being met, but I also came away from the movie with a new, unexpected interest — the Deaf community.
“A Quiet Place” is a post-apocalyptic movie that focuses on the Abbott family, who’s trying to survive in a world where any noise they make causes deadly, sound-sensitive extraterrestrial creatures to attack. Because of this, there is very little dialogue, and the family communicates through sign language.
Within the first few scenes of the film, the audience learns that Regan, the daughter in the family, is actually deaf. And the actress who plays her character, Millicent Simmonds, is deaf in real life, too.
“A Quiet Place” is praiseworthy not only for authentically representing a deaf character by casting a deaf actress, but for exposing the general public to an underrepresented community and providing access to viewers who can’t hear.
Harmful stereotypes of marginalized groups often originate in popular media, and misrepresentation can do even more damage than no representation at all. By casting a deaf actress in a deaf role and having an ASL coach on set, “A Quiet Place” was able to create an authentic portrayal of deafness and avoid misrepresenting the Deaf community and misinforming the public.
“A Quiet Place” is 95 percent silent with very little dialogue or music and has subtitles. This allows deaf people to be able to experience the film in the same way that people with hearing can. Other recent movies, like “Baby Driver” and “The Shape of Water,” have also incorporated ASL and the presence of hearing-impaired characters, but movies are still rarely accessible to deaf people in theaters.
Katelyn Carson is a junior speech pathology major and a member of Talking Hands, Temple’s American Sign Language club. She said that just through the presence of American Sign Language, or ASL, in the film, the general public gains knowledge about Deaf culture.
“It’s more inclusive of a group that is normally suppressed,” she said. “I think our society tends to categorize [deafness] as a problem, rather than just someone that’s a little different.”
Simmonds embraces her difference. Seeing someone in a major motion picture who is empowered by her disability is important for hearing-impaired people who don’t often see characters like themselves on the big screen.
“All my life, I didn’t really have someone to look up to, a mentor, a deaf role model,” Simmonds said in an interview with Good Morning America. “So I feel like that’s very important for me.”
“[Representation is important] not just for deaf people, but for all disabled people, and letting Hollywood know that we can be anything,” Simmonds added. “We can be included in more films, we can be airplane pilots, we can do anything we want to do. I think that’s an important message.”
Meghan Rainone is an ASL instructor for the Communication Science and Disorders Department in the College of Public Health and a member of the Deaf community. She said it’s important to accurately represent people with disabilities in movies.
“It’s really important, because it teaches the general population about that smaller population,” Rainone said. “An inaccurate representation in a movie will influence how hearing people view deaf people and how they approach [them].”
“We just need to be more aware overall of their needs and their community, their culture,” said Kara Ozimkiewicz, a junior speech pathology major and a member Talking Hands.
The more movies we have with closed captioning, the closer we get to normalizing the presence of assistive tools for deaf people. The same goes for having interpreters at lectures, events and productions. Seeing this movie has helped me become more mindful of the Deaf community and realize there needs to be more effort put into the widespread inclusion of all groups of people.
“I really have recognized myself as a minority,” Rainone said. “We have our own language, we have our own culture.”
Immersing students into the community through education is an effective way to spread awareness.