Similarly to how they felt about Black Widow, many Marvel fans feel a solo Hawkeye project is long overdue. Some ten years after making his debut in Thor, Jeremy Renner now has the chance to stand on his own two feet in Marvel Studios latest Disney+ series.
The series, which aired its season one finale this week, features all of the familiar elements of a Marvel production you’d expect. There’s explosions, adventure, wit, villains and a new over-eager wannabe hero in the form of Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld). But this show isn’t just traditional Marvel entertainment; after all, this is the MCU’s phase 4, and Hawkeye manages to achieve something that most mainstream TV series has never even attempted.
Hawkeye includes a Deaf character, Maya (played by Deaf actress Alaqua Cox). It also portrays Clint Barton/Hawkeye’s own hearing issues, making him one of only a few hard of hearing (HOH) characters whose symptoms are explored on TV. And the very first HOH superhero.
There have, of course, been examples where deaf/Deaf characters (‘deaf’ refers to those who cannot hear for any number of reasons, while ‘Deaf’ refers to those who are pre-lingually deaf and consider it a cultural identity) and those with hearing loss have appeared on screen before. Still, when you look at the list, it’s clear that most have been on the big screen in movies such as Sound of Metal, A Quiet Place and Baby Driver (where Baby had tinnitus, a severe hearing issue).
On British TV, actress Rose Ayling-Ellis has helped raise the profile of deaf people considerably in her role in Eastenders and by winning this year’s Strictly Come Dancing. But there is still a lack of representation regarding hearing loss in TV drama.
Today, the best examples have been Deaf actress Marlee Matalin’s role as Joey Lucas in The West Wing and David Lynch’s performance as FBI chief Gordon Cole in Twin Peaks. For many, though, Lynch’s portrayal, complete with malfunctioning hearing aids and shouting too loudly, felt more like a caricature. And when you consider that Twin Peaks was broadcast over 30 years ago, it feels like a long time to wait for another HOH character to grace our TV screens, especially when those who are HOH make up around 15% of the population.
So back to Hawkeye and its first episode, we’re told that Clint has a hearing aid and is very hard of hearing, something introduced to the character in the comics long ago. It seems that all those years of being an Avenger, explosions, and arrows whizzing past his ears have taken their toll on Clint, who now relies on a hearing aid and half-learned sign language to get by.
Hearing loss at this stage of life isn’t as rare as you think, with various conditions affecting people from all walks of life for a variety of reasons. However hearing loss has occurred, life for a person who is hard of hearing is different to the experiences of those who are completely deaf. It’s these details that the writers of Hawkeye have chosen to explore thoughtfully, all while keeping Clint the cool, sarcastic hero he has always been.
The show goes further than simply acknowledging Clint’s hearing loss, and each episode features intimate, empathetic moments that many HOH people will recognise. In the first episode, as Clint takes his kids out for dinner, one of the children positions himself on his dad’s “good” side, the side on which he can hear best.
Hearing loss is looked at in more depth in the show’s third episode when Clint encounters gang leader Maya Lopez. Maya, who is Deaf, notices Clint’s hearing aid and signs to him, assuming he will know American Sign Language (ASL). However, when it becomes clear that Clint cannot understand, she becomes disappointed, almost angry with him. As the encounter turns into a fight, Clint’s hearing aid gets knocked out, Maya crushes it with her boot. It seems like she does this to put him at a disadvantage, but it becomes clear that it is for a deeper reason as the episode progresses.
Maya wants Clint to embrace his deafness rather than fix it. One of the running themes between the two characters is the way their experience of deafness differs so much. Maya, who is Deaf, only knows a world without sound, which she embraces. On the other hand, Clint has spent most of his life hearing; being HOH puts him at a disadvantage, hence the hearing aid.
Clint’s hearing aid being broken during the fight with Maya illustrates how much of an in-between world the HOH may feel they live in—caught between hearing and non-hearing people and not fitting into either group. For much of the episode after this point, Clint can hear very little, and the muffled sounds that he does hear are used to illustrate what it’s like in his world as a person who is HOH.
Throughout episode three of Hawkeye, other moments demonstrate what life is like for someone getting used to the world of being HOH. The diner scene, for example, when Clint takes his hearing aid out on purpose so that he can eat in peace and not have to listen to Kate, but the best scene and one of the most touching comes later and shows how vital kindness towards those with hearing loss can be.
Still without his hearing aid, Clint receives a phone call from his youngest son. Not wanting to upset him, Clint relies on Kate to help him by writing down what his son is saying so that Clint can respond without his son knowing that his dad cannot hear him. It’s a touching scene on its own that takes on a more definite meaning when watched from the perspective of someone who is HOH; hearing loss must be complex and upsetting, but what Hawkeye shows, in Clint’s case, is that it is just another side to him that makes him who he is.
Hawkeye giving us our first hard of hearing superhero, alongside Maya, one of Marvel Studios’ first Deaf characters, is essential for onscreen representation and makes viewers who are Deaf or HOH feel seen.
Every episode of Hawkeye is available to stream exclusively on Disney+ now.