The film the deaf community has been waiting for: A Quiet Place – but it’s not without its flaws.
Disability on screen has been a thing of rarity, particularly if this includes actors with disabilities actually playing the roles. According to the UK film industry body Creative Skillset, only 0.3 percent of the total film workforce are disabled, with 14 percent of people in employment aged 16-24 considering themselves disabled (according to the Office of National Statistics). It is clear, then, that includes actors who identify as disabled are overdue their representation.
according to Krasinski, casting a deaf actress was “non-negotiable”
A Quiet Place, categorised as a horror, takes place in a land transformed by the need to be silent in order to survive, since the creatures that haunt the film hunt by sound. This is not the first time we have seen this on screen (think Alien and Jurassic Park), but it is one of the few (in mainstream cinema) that is 95 percent without dialogue. The film places us with Regan (Millicent Simmonds), daughter of Lee and Evelyn (John Krasinski and Emily Blunt), who is hearing impaired both in the film and in real life; according to Krasinski (director and star), casting a deaf actress was “non-negotiable”. Before sound-hunting creatures prowled the land, the family learnt sign language to be able to communicate with their deaf daughter, Regan.
In this sense, Regan’s disability motivated the key tool they needed to be able to survive in the terror-world. In suppressing sound, the family begin to crave it; sign language can only get you so far in their world. Silence is depicted as scary. This, in turn, leads to a slightly damaging representation – although, this is not to dismiss the film entirely. It is clearly important to present deaf roles on screen. The film has increased inclusivity. The cast and crew learnt sign language to be able to communicate effectively and inclusively on set. Krasinski (director and star) also made sure they had a language interpreter and a deaf advisor on set. In fact, Simmonds has been working as an activist for the deaf community (can we also note: she is only fifteen!), using the film to open the floodgates to more representations of disability on screen, with more opportunities for actors who identify as having a disability. Simmonds, in an interview with Now This, inspirationally declares: “anything you want to do is possible. Just work hard, and people will recognise that”.
representation of disability on screen is important and, even better, a platform that accepts disability should be reachable
Disability on screen has been particularly in the limelight after The Shape of Water achieved Best Picture. The film portrays, in its leading role, a mute woman (Sally Hawkins) who communicates via American Sign Language. However, Hawkins (although great in the role) is not an actor who has a disability. This brings the question: should disabled characters be played by disabled actors? This is a much larger debate, but one thing is for certain: representation of disability on screen is important and, even better, a platform that accepts disability should be reachable. The Shape of Water and A Quiet Place challenge past representations of disabilities being a category and demonstration of ‘The Other’, and are important in opening up the doors for further portrayals.
Despite its problems, ultimately I hope that A Quiet Place motivates other filmmakers to include representations of disability on screen; including hiring more disabled actors. It is about time that the construct between ‘able-bodies’ and ‘disabled bodies’ are broken down and replaced by simply: bodies. But it’s looking like we still have a long way to go.