Education

‘A Quiet Place’ Highlights the Importance of Disability Representation

Deaf actress Millicent Simmonds is a breakout star and advocate of the deaf community.

“A Quiet Place” is one of the most popular movies in the U.S. right now, but it’s not a typical horror film. The film features almost no spoken dialogue, instead most of the dialogue is in American Sign Language. Unlike most films, the movie cast actors with disabilities to play deaf characters. John Krasinski, who directed and stars in the film, worked to create an inclusive and accurate representation of disability and deafness.

In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, screenwriters Bryan Woods and Scott Beck said Krasinski pushed for the deaf character to be cast with a deaf actress.

He wanted Millicent Simmonds, a deaf actress and advocate for the deaf community. Simmonds plays Krasinski’s daughter, Regan. True representation involves showing a real deaf person on screen. Representation is not complete by a hearing actor learning sign language to depict a deaf person. Simmonds taught the cast American Sign Language on the set and even made suggestions for what signs should be used in the dialogue. The film benefits from Simmonds performance. Her knowledge and experiences enhance the authenticity of the plot. “A Quiet Place” is about a family hiding from blind monsters who rely on sound to catch their pray. The Abbott family, headed by real-life couple Krasinski and Emily Blunt, must keep their two children silent and safe, while preparing for the birth of another child.

People with disabilities are the most underrepresented minority in Hollywood.

Of the top 900 films between the years 2007 and 2016, just 2.7 percent of characters were portrayed as having a disability, according to Variety. In most cases, these characters were played by an actor without a disability, limiting opportunities for actors with disabilities to receive work. This typical casting is a normalized form of ableism, or discrimination against people with disabilities. Deaf model and activist Nyle DiMarco called out the industry for its erasure of actors with disabilities.

“A Quiet Place” opened at number one its opening weekend and debuted with an estimated $50 million.

The film delivered the year’s second largest three-day opening. “A Quiet Place” and its popularity are a great step forward for disability representation in entertainment. “The Shape of Water,” won the Academy Award for Best Picture at The Oscars this year. The film does represent disability with a character who communicates through sign language, but actress Sally Fields is not deaf. Like Krasinski, able-bodied directors and behind-the-scenes decision makers have the opportunity to be allies and make change. It’s great that Hollywood is writing more characters with disabilities, but it’s time to give actors with disabilities the opportunity to represent themselves.

 

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Also published on Medium.

Mariel Cariker is studying journalism and women's, gender and sexuality...