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Representation Done Correctly

Marvel’s “Eternals” includes long-overdue Deaf representation in the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Originally published December 2, 2021 by Cameron Patel, Arts and Entertainment Editor

Makkari, the MCU’s first Deaf superhero, posseses the power of superspeed. (LA Times)

Marvel’s latest cinematic release “Eternals,” is a sweeping epic that follows a group of aliens in their millenia-long journey to protect humanity. It is by far the most diverse movie in the MCU, prominently featuring disabled, LGBTQ+ and non-white characters. 

While some may argue that the movie’s inclusivity is “forced diversity,” it is actually just a deviation from the straight, white, abled image that has defined Marvel for the last decade. That is not to say that the franchise has not included any diversity before, but “Eternals” joins a number of recent films that actively spotlight stories that have typically been left out of the superhero genre.

Marvel has a history of leaving out Deaf representation. In the comics, Clint “Hawkeye” Barton is Deaf, but when the character debuted on screen, he was notably lacking the hearing aids that his comic counterpart had.

It is notable that the Marvel 616 comics, which the movies are most closely based off of, had actually restored Hawkeye’s hearing about 15 years before. But the fact that he was not Deaf in the movies was still a blow to the Deaf/Hard of Hearing community.

But Marvel is making strides in Deaf representation. 

In their new movie, “Eternals,” the character Makkari is Deaf. Her signing and Deafness are casually part of the film and it is clear that much care was put into her portrayal.

This effort is clear in how other characters use sign language. In doing so, they challenge the stereotype that all Deaf people can and will read lips. 

In fact, many Deaf and Hard of Hearing people cannot lipread, and according to the National Deaf Children’s Society, most people only understand about 30% of what is said. So the fact that other characters primarily communicate with Makkari via sign language demonstrates an often underrepresented aspect of the Deaf experience.

Makkari is also presented as a complete character. While I wish she had more screen time, the scenes she is featured in create a full picture of who she is. She is shown to have hobbies, romantic interests and strong familial relationships. Thus, she is given a fullness of character that disabled characters are often robbed of in order to make them one-dimensional stories of inspiration or pity.

I was thrilled to see Makkari sign, but I was also invested in her developing relationship with Druiq, one of the other Eternals. It is rare to see disabled representation that is not a caricature, and it is even rarer to find stories that give those characters the same romances, hobbies and conflicts that non-disabled characters are afforded.

Makkari is also a capable hero, one who plays a key role in the Eternals’ struggle to save the planet. Thus, Marvel did a fantastic job of creating a Deaf character who is both a complete person and a formidable warrior.

“Eternals” marks the first of several new Marvel projects featuring Deaf characters. The Disney+ shows “Hawkeye” and “Echo” will also include Deaf representation. Given how well they handled Makkari’s character in “Eternals,” I am looking forward to seeing both shows.

Marvel’s “Eternals” sets an example of how movies can incorporate Deaf characters while maintaining the plot, the integrity of the character and accurately representing the Deaf/disabled experience.

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Representation Done Correctly