Here are just a few of the most notable moments for Deaf Talent in 2020.
In February, Grey’s Anatomy introduced Dr. Lauren Riley, played by deaf actress Shoshannah Stern. Stern shared on social media platforms about her experience on the show, often raving about the directors and cast.
“It’s so rare to have someone who so truly and immediately gets the deaf experience on such an intuitive and cerebral level,” Stern wrote on her Instagram, discussing director and actor Jesse Williams. “Getting the character of Dr. Riley right was just as important to him as it was to me. I guess sometimes the universe gets it right. And when you find allies like this, you celebrate them.”
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The longtime British soap opera introduced a storyline highlighting two deaf characters. Ben Mitchell, played by Max Bowden, previously had hearing loss in one ear but also lost it in the other ear after a boat accident. Frankie, played by deaf actress Rose Ayling Ellis, enters the storyline to help Ben comes to term with his own hearing loss.
In order to portray the storyline accurately, EastEnders reached out to the National Deaf Children’s Society
EastEnders took this very seriously and they asked us to advise directly on set,” Vicki Kirwin, Audiology Adviser at the National Deaf Children’s Society, told Radio Times. “We explained how his hospital appointments would work and discussed with cast members how Ben’s deafness and tinnitus would impact him…We also gave advice on technical aspects of the storyline, like the types of hearing technology he could benefit from and how hearing tests would work.”
Another British soap, Coronation Street, took on a storyline with a deaf character as well — but this time as a baby. Gemma gives birth to quadruplets -one of whom is deaf.
Speaking to Digital Spy, a spokesperson for the show said: “This is a very important story to tell and will resonate with many parents who have gone through their children being diagnosed with hearing problems and the challenges that this throws up for the child, the parents and the whole family,” a show spokesperson told Digital Spy.
Coronation Street worked with Trafford Deaf Children’s Society and Great Ormond Street Hospital in order to portray the storyline as accurately as possible.
Deaf storylines seemed to be a common theme for British soaps, as Casualty was the third to portray one. The story followed Jade (Gabriella Leon), a deaf character on the show, as it took a deeper dive into her life.
Casualty really gets credit for their work with deaf talent behind the scenes. The episode includes two deaf writers (Charlie Swinbourne and Sophie Woolley), a deaf director (John Maidens), and two deaf actors (Leon and Sophie Stone).
“From the beginning, Casualty were really committed to doing this authentically,” scriptwriter Swinbourne told Digital Spy. “Knowing that a deaf director was going to take our scripts and direct it, Sophie and I felt a lot more confident and assured because we knew that John would understand what we were getting at in the script, or he’d understand what was really going on in some of these scenes. Not that a hearing director couldn’t, but I think when you’ve got somebody who actually has lived that life, they do bring their own experience to it and I think that they are the best person to do that job.
“Sometimes you get non-deaf people who are very interested in something about deafness that maybe the deaf audience already knew, but Casualty were really interested in what deaf people thought. I feel this genuinely made it so much more authentic.”
The hit Netflix show continued this year, starring partially deaf actress Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven.
Brown told Variety that even though she can’t fully hear herself when she performs, it’s never stopped her.
“I just started to sing, and if I sound bad I don’t care, because I’m just doing what I love,” she said. “You don’t have to be good at singing. You don’t have to be good at dancing or acting. If you like to do it, if you genuinely enjoy doing it, then do it. No one should stop you.”
This Netflix movie stars deaf actress Shaylee Mansfield as Zuzu, as she explores dance through sensation.
“As we were reviewing a variety of titles, we realized how profoundly the experience of shooting this film with a deaf actress was affecting us,” producer Susan Cartsonis told Respect Ability. “When a bunch of titles were put in front of us, this one resonated most strongly because it had meaning for how the story was unfolding.”
The movie also uses ASL, as it plays a part in the final dance.
“There are many Deaf dancers, Deaf performers on my Instagram, and stage plays that do this,” Mansfield told Respect Ability. “Anselmo [the ASL Dialogue Coach] and I brainstormed which words to sign during this number. We decided on the sign FAMILY ALWAYS because we stay together, we work together, we support each other as any family would.”
Read more: 5 Deaf actors to watch on Netflix right now
While the release date of this movie was pushed to 2021, it’s still made a splash this year since it will feature the first deaf Marvel superhero, played by Walking Dead star Lauren Ridloff. Ridloff, who is deaf herself, will play the role of Makkari.
“I saw Deaf people who were professionals, who were teachers, who were scientists, researchers, and that blew my mind,” she told NowThis Entertainment though sign language. “I feel representation is so important whether it’s in real life or on TV or on the big screen. We need to see other people who are like ourselves to help us define who we are.”