By John Schilling
Marvel’s most recent film, “Eternals,” is expanding the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) as we know it and in more ways than one.
The film, which was released on Nov. 5, focuses on 10 immortal super-powered aliens that have secretly lived on Earth for thousands of years, protecting humankind from invasive, monstrous aliens known as Deviants.
While the film has been met with mixed reviews, one of its highest praises has been the amount of diversity that the cast represents, including the introduction of Marvel’s first Deaf superhero in Lauren Ridloff’s Makkari, a character who has traditionally been portrayed in the comics as a white man who can hear. Ridloff, on the other hand, is a woman of color and is Deaf in real life, allowing her to make the role her own.
Ridloff may be new to the MCU, but she is no stranger to the CUNY community, having graduated from Hunter College in 2005 with her master’s in education and the goal of becoming a children’s author.
“The Hunter community is proud of alumna Lauren Ridloff, and we are thrilled to see her make her big-screen debut as the first Deaf superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe,” Hunter College President Jennifer J. Raab told The Vanguard.
Ridloff, who was known then as Lauren Teruel, went on to teach kindergarten and first grade at Public School 347, or The American Sign Language and English Lower School, for students who are Deaf and/or born into Deaf families, according to the New York Times.
She would find herself acting in Kenny Leon’s 2018 Broadway revival of “Children of a Lesser God” as Sarah Norman, the female lead role that was offered to her after she tutored Leon in American Sign Language for over a year and filled in at a table read. The role would put her on the map and earn her a 2018 Tony Award Nomination for Best Actress in a Play. Later that year, Ridloff would also make her debut as Connie in the ninth season of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”
“We’ve been watching Lauren since her breakout role on Broadway in ‘Children of a Lesser God’ and have seen her shatter through barrier after barrier like the real-life superhero she is,” added Raab. “We know Lauren will be inspiring us for years to come.”
While Ridloff is an alum of Hunter College, her accomplishments have garnered attention across CUNY. An additional praise of the film includes how the other characters communicate with Makkari using sign language, which stood out to Brooklyn College’s American Sign Language Club (BCASL).
“We are so happy to see sign language in a big film like ‘Eternals’ [as] there are few movies out there that include sign language,” said BCASL President Marlene Meza. “It’s great seeing representation of the Deaf community. Many have the stigma that Deaf people are helpless or that they need assistance. In the case of Eternals, we see Marvel’s first Deaf superhero, Makkari, who isn’t helpless at all but rather an extremely powerful woman with the power of speed.”
As reported by The Independent, research by Preply found that internet searches for Ridloff have increased globally by 550 percent since earlier this month. Since “Eternals” was teased last year, there has also been a 250 percent increase in searches for “learn sign language for beginners.”
While Ridloff maybe Marvel’s first Deaf superhero to appear on screen, she is not technically Marvel’s first Deaf superhero, according to Cheatsheet.com. Because Makkari is not Deaf in the comics, Marvel’s Hawkeye and Echo have often been acknowledged as Marvel’s first Deaf characters, appearing as such since the 1980s and 1990s, respectively.
Unlike Makkari, however, Hawkeye, who has been portrayed by Jeremy Renner across multiple MCU films, has not yet been portrayed as Deaf and was only partially Deaf in the comics. As for Echo, the character was born fully Deaf but has yet to appear in the MCU. This will change later this month, however, when Alaqua Cox debuts as the character in “Hawkeye,” the Disney+ series set to release on Nov. 24.
Fans also suspect that Hawkeye may lose his hearing during the series, as Renner has been spotted in the trailers wearing hearing aids, Cheatsheet.com reported. While this is not confirmed, it would only mean more Deaf and/or hard of hearing representation in the MCU that began with Ridloff in “Eternals.”
At the film’s world premiere, Ridloff reflected on the experience and how the film portrays being Deaf as something that could be good, a departure from what is typical.
“Let’s just say Makkari would not be as fast as she is if it wasn’t for her Deafness,” Ridloff told the Los Angeles Times at the premiere. “I kept wanting to check in about how we would actually reveal my Deafness in the storyline, and we finally got to a point where I felt like we could actually show Makkari as having a Deaf benefit or a Deaf gain…to show the idea that being Deaf can actually be a good thing too, and we show that in the movie.”