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A/V Brew – “Echoes” of Deafness in Disney+ Hawkeye

The latest MCU television series is now on its third episode with the aptly titled “Echoes.” Although the series started well below its predecessors’ popularity, the introduction of Alaqua Cox as Echo marked an essential point in deaf and disabled representation.

Echo (Maya Lopez) is a deaf, Native American antagonist-turned-hero in the comics, primarily associated with Daredevil. The choice to cast a deaf, Native American in the role was applauded by many, and Cox proved herself despite her lack of previous experience.

However, some people have questioned whether Hawkeye has accurately represented the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing (D/HH) experience, even with this casting. Although many of us in the community are happy, we also have some criticisms of the show.

The first? The show’s inclusion of Hawkeye’s deafness came as a shock, despite being comic accurate since the ’80s.

In the decade of the first three phases of the MCU, there was no indication that Clint was experiencing hearing loss. Although it was nice that Marvel Studios finally acknowledged this trait, it felt shoe-horned in, especially with the montage of scenes from earlier movies meant to “explain” it.

Still, any representation is appreciated, especially subtleties about D/HH life. Turning off hearing aids to ignore others, the struggle of learning sign language later in life, and even the turn of a body to face whoever is talking all were instantly relatable.

The most pertinent moment came when Echo met Hawkeye for the first time, and we saw the difference between those born and raised Deaf and those late-deafened and raised in the hearing world. Many of us could relate to the schism, from her criticism of hearing aids to his lack of signing.

However, despite our familiarity (or possibly because of it), the D/HH community knew that this show was written, directed, and edited by hearing people.

The first confusion was the inconsistency with Hawkeye’s level of deafness, which seemed to change depending on the plot.

The first two episodes suggested he possibly had unilateral (single ear) hearing loss. His ability to hold conversations with people not facing him, out of sight, in different rooms, etc., using a single aid, were not the signs of someone with significant hearing loss.

However, with the loss of his hearing aid and the muffled sound effects and miscommunications, it was apparent that Clint has severe bilateral (both ears) hearing loss (at the minimum). The use of a single aid would not have granted Clint the ability to navigate and communicate in the hearing world, as shown.

(As an example, this author has minor/moderate hearing loss and still has to constantly ask people to be in the same room, face him, and repeat themselves.)

Another area where the hearing writers failed was in their choice to turn the vehicle chase sequence into one giant deaf joke. I’m all for jokes about deafness, although usually from d/Deaf comedians, but at a certain point, the humor becomes cliché.

As much as we could relate to the miscommunication between Clint and Kate, resorting to the “deaf person repeats what the hearing person just said” punchline repeatedly was unnecessary. These deaf jokes felt like they were stolen straight from ’80s films rather than something clever.

If you’re going to include deaf jokes, please have D/HH writers – they know how to laugh about our experiences in the hearing world without punching down or resorting to archaic stereotypes.

One of the biggest failures was the choice to not show the actors signing in many shots.

Many of us theorized this was because they hadn’t adequately educated the cast, like Fra Free’s Kazi, on how to sign at the level their characters would. Others noticed scenes where Alaqua Cox, a native signer, was shown only in headshots or even from behind.

One possibility is direction and editing did this on purpose to show signers and speakers as equals, as the subtitles remained regardless of how they were communicating.

Regardless of the motivation, this was a poor decision made from a hearing perspective that ignored D/HH etiquette. As a visual language, to fully experience communicating in sign language, you should see the entire upper body; to cut to face or over-the-shoulder shots was like having a hearing actor mumble or give a wooden performance.

Funny enough, one of the most glaring errors was a little scene involving a random, no-named character.

After Clint’s hearing aid was crushed, he took it to a doctor in Chinatown to be repaired. Apparently, the doctor was also a medical technology genius, offering her services at low cost, because he had it back within the same day for whatever cash he and Kate had on them.

Anyone who’s dealt with medical technology, especially hearing aids, knows how costly they are, to begin with, not to mention the time and money to have them repaired. In a universe full of gods, aliens, and nanotechnology, this repair was possibly one of the most unbelievable moments for us.

Despite these criticisms, many of which the hearing audiences might have overlooked, that’s not to say we’re unhappy with Hawkeye.

Overall, the writers brought many of our experiences to the screen. I appreciate the writers showing what our lives are like without resorting to tired tropes like Inspirationally Disadvantaged or Disability Superpowers.

I would wager most of us are cautiously optimistic about D/HH representation in the show. The caveat is that many of our positive thoughts rely on Alaqua Cox’s fantastic performance and further interactions between Echo and Hawkeye as he comes to grips with his deafness.

About Brook H. (269 Articles)
Generalist, polymath, jack-of-all-trades... Brook has degrees in Human Behavior and Psychology and has majored in everything from computers to business. He's worked a variety of jobs, including theater, security, emergency communications, and human services. He currently resides outside Baltimore where he tries to balance children, local politics, hobbies, and work. Brook is HoH and a major Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing advocate, a lifelong gamer (from table-top to computer), loves everything paranormal, and is a Horror-movie buff.

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