Film Forward

Should More Superheroes With Disabilities Be Reflected In Movies? Why This Actor Says Yes.

"Disability is also a part of diversity."

The ways we watch TV and movies have evolved, and it's time for the talent in front of and behind the camera to do the same. Film Forward speaks on the initiatives to diversify the film industry and the stories it tells. New articles premiere every second Thursday of — and throughout — the month.

If you ask Nyle DiMarco, Hollywood has a long way to go in terms of embracing people with disabilities and telling their stories authentically. For one, the America's Next Top Model and Dancing With the Stars champ, and deaf activist, believes there's one way the Avengers franchise could have done a bit better in this area.

Mic recently wrote an article about diversity in the past decade of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that was largely about gender and race. Upon seeing it trending, DiMarco tweeted at it with a short-yet-meaningful response: "Disability is also a part of diversity." He also pointed out that Hawkeye has been deaf in the comics and yet is depicted, by Jeremy Renner, as a hearing character.

Well, Mic invited DiMarco for an interview in which they discussed Hawkeye in the MCU, with DiMarco suggesting it "would have made a better movie … if they'd actually brought in a deaf person to play a deaf Hawkeye." While he means "no offense," he calls Renner's role "boring" and says "sorry" when he points out that he's not exactly a fan-favorite character. That said, DiMarco is a fan of Renner's work. And, DiMarco's best response to those who question it: "Why not?"

"So many times, people forget the disability conversation in diversity. They think diversity has to do with race [and] gender, but there's so much more to it," DiMarco said. "We are part of diversity as people with disabilities and the danger is that we get excluded, and so I want that to be a part of the conversation."

As Film School Rejects pointed out in a recent piece, Hollywood loves movies about people with disabilities — they just don't love actors with disabilities. For every A Quiet Place (which embraces a deaf character played by a deaf actor), there are countless other films that tell stories about people with disabilities while getting actors without those disabilities to portray them. 

According to a 2016 study by the Annenberg Foundation, only 2.7 percent of all speaking characters in 2016's top 100 films were depicted with a disability. Of that, the characters were — by a large part — mostly White, cisgender males. When there are already so few roles there to represent an estimated 18.7 percent of the U.S. population, it should be pushed for actors with those disabilities to play them.

In the history of the Academy Awards (we're talking 90-plus years), there have only been two moments when an acting Oscar went to an actor with a disability who portrayed their disability onscreen. The first was in 1947, when Harold Russell (who lost both hands while in the Army) played a veteran who was in the same situation in The Best Years of Our Lives and won the supporting actor trophy. The other came in 1987, when deaf actress Marlee Matlin won the best actress trophy for playing the lead role of a deaf woman in Children of a Lesser God. There are talented actors with disabilities out there who will be able to inhabit these roles better than even a brilliant actor sans a disability ever could.

"I think Hollywood really needs to start considering bringing in more deaf talent, because there are so many of us who are very talented and can do this work," DiMarco said. "And if they really want our perspective on the screen, then they need to think about it differently."

Beyond the Hawkeye argument, DiMarco (who would "definitely consider it" if asked to play the superhero with amazing bow and arrow skills) definitely has a point. He, being a deaf person himself, has been an advocate for those in his community and has used the platform he has been given to advocate for issues that hit close to home for him. Through the Nyle DiMarco Foundation, he advocates for more deaf actors in deaf roles (hopefully using American Sign Language), speaks up about the importance of captions, and works to expand the understanding of deaf culture worldwide.

Cover image: Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com

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