Hawkeye Proved a Heavy Hitter for HoH and Deaf Representation

Let's clear something up first and foremost: no, Hawkeye is not deaf, nor is he really part of the Deaf community in the Disney+ series. Hawkeye is hard of hearing (HoH), though the show does give audiences a Deaf protagonist in Alaqua Cox's Maya Lopez aka Echo. Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) even tells Maya this in the show…and yet, there are still dozens of articles calling Hawkeye deaf. Sigh.

As the child of an HoH parent, I appreciate the hell out of Hawkeye's portrayal of hearing loss. The MCU didn't really talk about Clint's hearing loss or even show it until he'd already been well established in the films. The comics shift in and out of addressing his hearing loss, but it wasn't really until Matt Fraction's run of Hawkeye that the little realities of HoH life really felt like they were a part of the character. In the series, which is straight up based on the Fraction run, it does just as good of a job, even better sometimes, at showing the realities of hearing loss and straddling the two worlds (Deaf and hearing).

Hawkeye
Images: Screencaps

Representation is important; seeing your reality represented and the perspectives of people you know and love on screen for the world to understand is phenomenal and helps people feel not so isolated. Aside from niche shows or one-off episodes, the Deaf community isn't very well represented to begin with…and those who are HoH are already not fully accepted in some parts of the Deaf community. HoH representation is spotty and comedically offensive most of the time, usually showing HoH individuals as elderly. Not only do we get a regular, heroic main character visibly struggling with hearing loss, but we see how he interacts with his family, partner, and the world around him. We see an "invisible disability" and it's not for pity, it's not for laughs, and it sure isn't for a convenient plot point or manufactured diversity: it's a real part of Clint Barton's life, and those in his life.

Hawkeye's hearing loss is something I'm familiar with seeing, and the show presents it in a real way, no slant, no angle. Watching an adult struggling to learn an entirely new language in efforts to keep communication is so real, and honestly sometimes funny, like when Maya signs to Clint assuming he understands, and he responds in basically "baby's first ASL" ('more cookie please, thank you,' in case you forgot the scene). It's comedy based in reality and it's funny without being disparaging, offensive, or making fun of anyone.

Clint's struggles of feeling lost and cut off in a world no longer built for him is another reality that very few outside of the situation consider: the phone scene where his hearing aid is broken and his son calls, but he can't understand any part of the phone call and the audio switches to the "underwater/muffled" POV is absolutely brilliant. Kate (Hailee Steinfeld) interpreting with the notepad is a wonderfully empathetic moment that's another little reality people rarely consider. Speaking of Kate, when she breaks in and misses all the clues that the inhabitant of the apartment is deaf but mentions it to Clint and he automatically picks up on the light alarm is perfection and a very nice passing commentary on people not noticing Deaf culture and the differences.

Communication is not "one size fits all," especially within the HoH community; for those who lost their hearing later in life, depend on a hearing aid or CI, or were raised by an older generation who repressed sign language in favor of speaking and lip reading, they may not be fluent in anything other than English. Or they could sign, but have someone around who doesn't sign, creating a communication gap. There's a lot of variances, but Hawkeye does a phenomenal job showing some of the realities, struggles, and even positives (never having to hear exactly how bad Rogers: The Musical is? Deaf gain for sure!) of real life with hearing loss. Thank you, Marvel and Disney+ for a show that puts Deaf and HoH characters front and center in positive, real roles and doesn't make the story all about disability.

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About Eden Arnold

Eden enjoys watching baking shows with her cat, and they have lots of opinions about television (as well as movies and everything else). She puts this to good use along with her journalism degree and writing experience with by-lines over the years in newspapers, magazines, books, and online media outlets. You can find her on Twitter and IG at @Edenhasopinions.
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