This Friday saw the release of the film A Quiet Place, where a post-apocalypse family of four must live in silence to avoid being killed by blind, sound-tracking monsters. John Krasinski, who directed, co-wrote, and starred in the film alongside wife Emily Blunt, made a very important casting choice for the character Regan.
It’s all too common that we see characters with disabilities played by able-bodied actors (and of course, far too many white people have acted in roles for people of colour). But with deaf character Regan, Krasinski pushed to hire Millicent Simmonds, a deaf actress. Simmonds previously showed off her skills in Wonderstruck, an Oscar-worthy performance in a silent film-style movie where she also played a deaf character, although representation in that film was still a bit lacking: Julianne Moore, who is not deaf, also played a deaf character. To only cast one deaf actress when there’s more than one role designed for a deaf actor shows a lack of commitment to actual representation.
Even movies that seem to be pushing for better representation fall flat: Black Panther is a step forward for black men and women in film, but what about the industry as a whole? While Asian representation in media is improving, we still see racist stereotypes abound (a joke on the new season of Roseanne comes to mind: after falling asleep through what would’ve been Asian family-centred show Fresh off the Boat, she remarks that she and Dan didn’t miss anything: “They're just like us. There, now you're all caught up.” Clearly, that’s not true.)
That’s why it’s so important that Krasinski made sure Simmonds received the role; true representation is showing the real person on screen. And it’s about education too, what her life is like and how she navigates through it.
“We always had a deaf character in the script, but John really pushed for them to hire Millicent," screenwriter Scott Beck told The Hollywood Reporter. "She came to set and taught everyone sign language. It was really amazing and brought an extra depth to the film.”
That’s just another benefit of actual representation: What could a hearing actress have brought to the set besides notions of deafness? In this film, soundless interaction is everything. It’s hard to imagine Krasinski didn’t learn even more from Simmonds and her acting than she did from him.
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