In recent years, there has been a gradual increase in the representation of individuals with hearing disabilities in movies, TV, and entertainment shows. People are becoming more aware that hearing loss is a topic that is not talked about enough, and it is exciting to see directors, creators, and artists begin to shed light on the everyday struggles someone with hearing loss encounters. A powerful film that put this topic in the spotlight was the 2022 Oscar-Winning movie: CODA.
This is the first film to win an Oscar where three of the main characters are deaf. “CODA” is an acronym for “Child of Deaf Adults.” The film focuses on the daughter Ruby, played by Emilia Jones, who is the only hearing member in a Deaf family.
Director of the film, Sian Heder, learned sign language for the movie and immersed herself in the culture. Heder commented on her intentions behind creating this film, noting “I think that was my goal going in — to make a movie that honored Deaf culture, that really portrayed it in an authentic and nuanced way, but that also transcended it and made it about the experience of family,”
In the movie, Ruby nears the end of high school and begins to entertain her dreams of going to a renowned music college for singing. She struggles with breaking free from her Deaf parents and brother, who rely heavily on her as a translator for their fishing business, and they can’t relate to her love of singing. However, the family’s opinions quickly change after witnessing Ruby’s performance at the school’s musical.
Ruby’s mom, dad, and brother, all attended the show to support Ruby, despite not being able to hear her sing. The scene is filmed in two different points of view: normal hearing audience members listening to Ruby singing, versus what Ruby’s family hears: utter silence.
By observing and watching the crowd at the show, Ruby’s family picks up on their body language and facial expressions, and recognizes that their daughter’s voice is inspiring the audience. After seeing the impact Ruby’s voice has on others, the family quickly jumps on board, and pushes Ruby to pursue her dreams of singing.
This scene was emotional, and an excellent representation of how those with hearing loss perceive the world compared to those with normal hearing. It allows viewers to empathize with the daily struggles and feelings of disconnection that those with hearing loss so often experience.
CODA also includes one of the most commonly frustrating experiences for someone with hearing loss: trying to follow a group conversation over loud background chatter. Ruby’s brother Leo, played by Actor Daniel Durant demonstrates this perfectly in a scene where he is at a local bar with his co-workers. Leo attempts to read the lips of his co-workers and smiles along with the conversation. But eventually, with so many distractions getting in his way, Leo gets frustrated and gives up. This experience of trying to understand what’s happening and keep up with the group conversation is something that people with hearing loss can deeply relate to.
Australian Comedian Ray Bradshaw
Australian Comedian, Ray Bradshaw, shares his story growing up with normal hearing and having two parents with profound hearing loss. Ray learned sign language at a very young age, and hearing loss was a perfectly ordinary part of his life. He helped his parents with tasks like calling the bank, and became confident speaking to adults much older than himself. Doing so helped Ray become very confident in his ability to speak in front of any audience.
As Ray got older, he went to school and studied drama at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts. He quickly was fascinated by comedy and in 2015 he did a BSL-interpreted (British Sign Language) gig at the Edinburgh Festival. Soon after performing, he realized how few comedians were accessible for those who experience hearing loss.
“There was a lack of awareness, no funding, no incentive to change anything.” – Ray Bradshaw.
Ray began talking to several other comedians in the industry who were feeling similar dissatisfaction with the lack of awareness around accessibility for those with hearing loss. Determined to make a difference, Ray Bradshaw partnered with a BSL interpreter, Karen Forbes, with whom he’d go on to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe. He was very nervous for his first show, and going in thought it would be a disaster.
However, he received raving reviews of positivity and gratitude from audience members. People were impressed with how naturally Karen Forbes was able to keep up with the ad-libs, interjections and audience participation. One reviewer commented that, “The banter between them is a joyously cheeky thing to watch, and most likely a partnership that lots of the audience will not have experienced at a comedy gig before.” One woman was in tears because it was the first time she’d been able to go to a show like that.
Ray Bradshaw continues to make his shows more accessible for those who experience hearing loss. He is paving the way for more comedians to adapt their shows to be more inclusive and welcoming to the hard of hearing community.
The Last of Us – Keivonn Woodard
Keivonn Woodard, a deaf 10-year-old actor, recently appeared in the hit HBO series “The Last of Us”. Keivonn plays Sam in the post-apocalyptic zombie fungus thriller, which is adapted from the popular video game “The Last of Us.”
The character Kevin portrays in the series is not deaf in the video game. Co-creator Craig Mazin suggested making this change for the series. “I wanted to show a different way of communicating and I’m also pretty committed to showing disabilities on screen to increase representation of people with disabilities,” Mazin said.
It is nice to see a young person representing the hearing loss community, as this is not commonly seen. Most people assume that hearing loss is something that happens as you get older. However, this is not always the case, and hearing loss can happen at any point of time in one’s life. Showing a young boy with hearing loss in this very popular television show can help provide inspiration and hope to other children across the nation who may struggle with hearing loss.
The Last of Us will not be the last time viewers see Keivonn. He is currently filming for the lead role of “Fractal,” a science fiction short. Keivonn is also a huge fan of playing hockey, and recently appeared in a feature story published by the NHL. You can learn more about Keivonn, and his love for both hockey and acting here [insert link].
These are just some examples of how the entertainment industry has been moving in the right direction, spreading more awareness for Deaf and Hard of Hearing communities. It is definitely nice to see this addition, and we look forward to more influential people in the industry joining in on the conversation of hearing loss!
If you or someone you know struggles with hearing loss, our professional team of audiologists at Lake Shore Audiology can help. Reach out to us today at 716-674-4188.