John Krasinski’s “A Quiet Place” has proven to be a hit! The first big horror blockbuster of the year, the movie continues trends seen in 2017 as audiences are drawn to smart, scary stories that don’t have colossal budgets.
While not without precedent, “A Quiet Place” also does one other interesting thing: it centers its story around a positive representation of disability.
The lead characters’ young daughter Regan is deaf; an attribute that turns out to be a tremendous benefit to the family, as it provides them with the preparation necessary to be able to survive in a post-apocalyptic world where being silent is essential to survival. All of the core cast are well-versed in sign language, and as something of a rare case in modern Hollywood, most of the film’s dialogue is delivered in subtitles.
Before we get any further in this article, I feel that I ought to apologize in advance for any moment in which I use terminology that doesn’t fit with the preferred language for describing deafness and other disabilities. I’ve done my best to be respectful, and I’m happy to accept criticism or guidance where I’ve gone wrong.
Personally, I find it so utterly refreshing to see a positive representation of disability in a significant movie release. It’s wonderful that the story is crafted in such a way that Regan (played by real-life deaf actor Millicent Simmonds), is a useful contributor to her family, while at the same time, her disability is not erased.
This extended to every level of the movie’s development – according to screenwriter Scott Beck, John Krasinski fought to get Simmonds cast, and her inclusion was central to filming the movie.
“We always had a deaf character in the script, but John really pushed for them to hire Millicent. She came to set and taught everyone sign language. It was really amazing and brought an extra depth to the film.”
“A Quiet Place” continues a trend that was seen in last year’s “The Shape of Water”, which featured a mute lead character who, again, was capable of communication that wasn’t otherwise possible because of, rather than in spite of, her disability.
(Admittedly, in this case, the actor in the role does not share her character’s disability, so perhaps it’s not quite as progressive as Millicent Simmonds’ casting.)
The fact that both of these films have become such important releases shows that filmmakers are embracing the opportunity to tell thoughtful, contemplative stories through visuals and actions rather than relying on spoken dialogue. In both cases, it’s a testament to the quality of the filmmaking that this is possible, and it’s a wonderful way to force the old advice of “Show, Don’t Tell”, so that these movies have to be inventive with the way they communicate information.
It would be nice to believe that these films, and their positive portrayal of deaf and mute characters, will open the door to filmmakers experimenting with more representation of disability within their movies.
One can’t imagine that this will make such things an easier sell to movie producers, who’ll likely still be squeamish about such an idea. Sure, “A Quiet Place” has earned a lot of money thanks to building a story around a deaf character, but it’s unlikely that the executives from the major Hollywood studios will give credit where it’s due when disability representation in movies is still so unproven.
Look at how long it took for “Wonder Woman” or “Black Panther” to get made.
What will be good, though, is that filmmakers are going to learn from “A Quiet Place”. If an up-and-coming director is inspired to feature a character with a disability within their movie, then bit by bit, this trend will grow. There’s so much untapped potential for storytelling here that, sooner or later, someone is going to want to explore these themes further.
With any luck, “A Quiet Place” might just be the next key step towards a more inclusive Hollywood.