Articles | Hearing Loss

7 Television and Film Characters from a Different Perspective

Hollywood television stars with hearing loss

Mr. Holland’s Opus

Cole - Mr. Holland's Opus

The overarching theme in Mr. Holland’s Opus is that Mr. Holland, an aspiring composer who takes a high school music teaching job, keeps missing the cues in the movements of his life. His son, Cole, is born deaf, and Mr. Holland has a difficult time connecting with him because he views Cole’s hearing loss as a barrier. We’ll avoid spoilers for those of you who haven’t seen it yet, but there are a few hopeful moments throughout the film during which Mr. Holland is given a chance to see his son’s unique interaction with sounds and music. It definitely gives him and the viewer a new and different perspective.

A River Runs Through It

Ear Trumpet - A River Runs Through It

Mr. Murchison is a minor character in A River Runs Through It who uses an ear trumpet for his left ear. Ear trumpets were an early form of hearing aids that were cone-shaped and provided amplification. In the film, he initially wasn’t using his ear trumpet and didn’t hear Mrs. Maclean explaining that it was Norman (to the right in the picture) who was with her and not Paul, her other son. After raising the ear trumpet to his ear, Mrs. Maclean spoke loudly into it to explain. It’s a comical moment in the film, but still rings true today with many people who don’t wear their hearing aids all the time until they can’t hear someone talking to them.

Children of a Lesser God

Sarah Norman - Children of a Lesser God

Marlee Matlin plays Sarah Norman, a custodial worker who works at a school for the deaf and hard-of-hearing, in Children of a Lesser God. Sarah is deaf and communicates using sign language, but a new teacher at the school, James (played by William Hurt), develops a romantic relationship with her and encourages her to speak aloud. Matlin, one of the most well-known modern actresses with profound hearing loss, won an Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for her performance. She is still the only deaf actress to have won an Academy Award. One of the film’s biggest criticisms was that it catered to a hearing audience; James spoke Sarah’s sentences out loud instead of the film using subtitles.

Babel

Chieko Wataya - Babel

In 2006, Babel was released, and one of the stories within the film was about Chieko Wataya, a Japanese teenager with profound hearing loss. She’s a rebellious teenager who witnessed her mother’s suicide and is visibly troubled. Rinko Kikuchi, the actress who portrayed Wataya, studied sign language for a year for the part. She was also nominated for an Oscar for the role, the first nomination for a Japanese actress in 49 years. A large theme of the movie is the concept of characters communicating without spoken words, so it’s interesting to see how the other characters communicate with a character who already inherently communicated differently.

Switched at Birth

Switched at Birth - Uprising

ABC Family’s Switched at Birth features many characters with profound hearing loss, but one episode in March 2013 gave hearing viewers a completely different perspective: nearly the entire episode consisted of communication via American Sign Language. It received both praise and criticism; some criticism stemmed from viewers who were uncomfortable with being put in that perspective (that was the point, though, right?), and some people criticized that it didn’t go far enough to give a true perspective of someone with profound hearing loss (no music, no sound effects, etc.). In the end, we can all agree that it went further than any other television show has gone to give a hearing audience a non-hearing perspective.

The Hobbit

Oin - The Hobbit

John Callen plays Oin in The Hobbit, and Peter Jackson’s adaptation gives Oin hearing loss and an ear trumpet. His ear trumpet and hearing loss become comedic devices in a couple of scenes, including one in which he stuffs a handkerchief in it to avoid hearing the Elven music. Oin is a pretty awesome dwarf who shows that hearing loss doesn’t have to slow one down; he’s a warrior who kicks goblin butt, and he’s the healer for the company. Plus, who wouldn’t want a braided beard like his?

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