Growing up, actor Lauren Ridloff was always searching for people to connect with in books and movies. But as someone who's deaf, that was a challenge. Now Ridloff, who plays Connie in The Walking Dead and stars as Makkari in Marvel's Eternals, gets to be that very person she'd wished to see on screen.
"I know I'm not the only one; there are other people out there like me," Ridloff said during a panel Thursday at The 19th's Virtual Summit. "When we do become more inclusive and we tell stories of other people, we develop more compassion as a result."
Ridloff is making history by becoming Marvel's first deaf superhero, in Eternals, which is scheduled to come out in theaters Nov. 5. She'll play a reimagined version of Makkari, who was a white, muscular man in the comics.
"I feel like they looked at Makkari and they said, 'Hey, let's make a new Makkari, and let's just make it everything that he is not,'" Ridloff said of Marvel's thought process.
Ridloff says she's thrilled to have a platform that will hopefully raise awareness about deaf communities around the world, especially in places where there aren't laws like the Americans With Disabilities Act.
"it's going to make a massive impact," Ridloff said of Eternals. "The MCU has a global audience, and I can't even start to imagine how this is going to affect other communities throughout the world."
Ridloff cited the success of Black Panther as being a turning point for Hollywood to incorporate more on-screen inclusion and representation.
"i'm coming into this industry at a time where Hollywood is rethinking what it means for inclusivity," she said. "If you look at the movies before in the MCU catalog, there wasn't one superhero of color and with different abilities ... I think people nowadays are much more interested in the human aspect of those superheroes."
Looking ahead, Ridloff says it's important to have more deaf creators both on screen and behind the camera, as writers, producers, consultants, makeup artists and in other roles. She'd like to see more stories created by people who are deaf, as well as multilayered stories that don't just focus on someone being deaf, but rather touch on a person's experience as a mother or an artist, for example, who just also happens to be deaf.
"Thinking through all those different layers," she said, "I think people then would have a better understanding of the deaf experience in general."