Hawkeye wearing a hearing aid in Marvel comics.

Disney+’s Hawkeye Needs Deaf Representation

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With Disney+’s Hawkeye series set to debut in Fall 2021, there are still several issues to address before the show premieres—especially those considering its main character, Clint Barton, a canonically deaf character in Marvel comics.

In a comic arc from Hawkeye #4 (1983), written by Mark Gruenwald, after a battle with villain Crossfire involving a sonic arrowhead blowing out his ear drums, the subsequently deaf archer superhero was seen using hearing aids. Later on, the superhero’s disability was erased during Franklin Richards’ Counter-Earth arc, not unlike the erasure of Barbara Gordon’s (a.k.a. Oracle) identity as a paraplegic crime-fighter and wheelchair-user in DC Comics. However, Hawkeye’s deafness was essentially restored in the Eisner Award-winning Hawkeye series written by Matt Fraction, in which the character is seen again wearing hearing aids and using ASL.

However, if one were to look at the Marvel Cinematic Universe, in which onscreen Hawkeye has only ever been portrayed by Jeremy Renner, a hearing actor, one would have no idea that any Marvel icon had ever had a disability, or of the historical inconsistency of Hawkeye’s deafness.

For years, there have been protests over this casting, as Hawkeye had been one of the only confirmed deaf characters within the Marvel universe, aside from Maya Lopez (a.k.a. Echo.) For deaf fans, this erasure of disability means continued loss of visibility for their community within one of the most successful franchises in history, losing a core aspect of a beloved character.

Prominent deaf actor/activist Nyle DiMarco had previously called the MCU out for this, having tweeted, “Disability is also a part of diversity, @mic. HawkEye is actually Deaf, and MARVEL Cinematic Universe made the character hearing.” In conversation with ScienceFiction.com, DiMarco stated, “So many times people forget the disability conversation in diversity…We are part of diversity as people with disabilities, and the danger is that we get excluded.”

With Hawkeye, who has never had a solo movie, finally getting some focus in his own Disney+ series, now would be a great time to introduce that aspect of the character.

Of course, while it would still provide some onscreen representation, adding that element of the character at this point would only be a half measure in that it wouldn’t address the issue of disabled actors’ casting difficulties. According to media studies, at least 95% of disabled characters on television are played by able-bodied actors. This means that even for stories which highlight disabled characters, performers with disabilities face significant obstacles even entering the casting room, much less getting hired.

Right now, Hollywood still has major problems when it comes to diversity, as highlighted by the 2020 Oscars. When it comes to representation, especially when considering disability, studios are still severely behind on achieving equal and diverse representation of any kind. While Marvel has taken certain steps to amend their own lack of diversity, as seen with recent news of confirmed gay superhero, as well as hiring of Lauren Ridloff, a deaf actress to play their first onscreen deaf superhero, there is always the capacity to do more.

By possibly recasting Jeremy Renner with a deaf actor, such as Nyle DiMarco who has even expressed interest in the role, Marvel has a chance to make up for its history of deaf erasure and overall lack of disability representation in the past through bringing new life to the MCU with fresh, diverse talent. It seems unlikely at this point, but if they do plan to recast Renner due to recent allegations against him, it would be absolutely appalling not to take the opportunity to rectify this issue, too.

Either way, we know that onscreen representation has significant repercussions on real-life people. Look no further than 2012 and the story of then-four-year-old Anthony Smith, “who [had refused] to wear his ‘blue ear’ hearing aid because, he explained, superheroes don’t wear hearing aids.” In response, Marvel artists Manny Mederos and Nelson Ribeiro drew a picture of Anthony as The Blue Ear, an honorary Avenger inspired by Anthony’s hearing aid, standing side-by-side with Hawkeye, ready to fight crime.

For children like Anthony, heroes like Hawkeye help to destigmatize disability and the use of assistive technology, letting them know that they can be heroes themselves, hearing aids and all.

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Michele Kirichanskaya
Michele Kirichanskaya is an intersectional feminist and multi-spectrum geek living in New York. In addition to reading, watching cartoons, and spending time with family, she also spends time trying to write for as any websites as possible, including Lambda Literary, GeeksOut!, ComicsVerse, BLENDtw, Mindfray, Bookstr, and more.