Hearing Loss in Hollywood

10 Movies and TV Shows With Deaf Characters

It’s nearly Oscar time, and — as with every exciting round of Academy Award nominations — fans of this year’s contenders are choosing sides.

Whether you’re #TeamEmmaStone or #TeamMerylStreep for best actress or you have your eye on “La La Land,” “Hidden Figures,” or “Manchester by the Sea” for best picture, here’s a quick break from the awards-season suspense.

We’ve compiled our own top movie picks and TV shows with themes or characters that tackle deafness. With about 48 million Americans experiencing hearing impairment in at least one ear, according to Johns Hopkins research, it’s no wonder that Hollywood and hearing loss intersect:

  1. Switched at Birth (2011–2017)
    This Freeform drama series about two teen daughters, well, switched at birth takes on everything from family dynamics and self-identity to hearing loss, with one of its chief characters and a prominent supporting character both played by deaf actors fluent in American Sign Language.

  2. See What I’m Saying: The Deaf Entertainers Documentary (2010)
    This frequent winner on the film-festival circuit follows four deaf entertainers — a comic, an actor, a drummer, and a singer — on their separate but profound journeys to break through barriers and reach their own visions of success.

  3. The Hammer (2010)
    Based on the life of deaf champion wrestler and UFC fighter Matt Hamill, The Hammer offers a coming-of-age look at hearing impairment coupled with self-identity, determination, struggles, teamwork, triumph, and growth.

  4. Deaf Jam (2010)
    With the vibrant slam-poetry genre front and center, this independent film follows a deaf Queens, New York, teenager who discovers a new level of self-expression through American Sign Language poetry.

  5. Hear and Now (2007)
    This HBO documentary by filmmaker Irene Taylor Brodsky tells the story of her accomplished parents — both deaf since birth — who jointly decided at age 65 to hear their world for the first time through cochlear implant surgery.

  6. Music Within (2007)
    In a tribute to one of many heroes in the disability-rights movement, Music Within tells the story of talented public speaker Richard Pimentel, who returned home from the Vietnam War with a disabling hearing loss that led to a new calling.

  7. Children of a Lesser God (1986)
    This ’80s love story and clash of ideology over lip-reading and speaking versus communicating through sign language introduced deaf actress Marlee Matlin, who earned an Academy Award for her leading role.

  8. The West Wing (1999-2006)
    This popular and critically celebrated peek into the White House through the fictional Bartlet Administration also includes deaf actress and Oscar winner Marlee Matlin as Joey Lucas, a say-it-like-you-mean-it political expert who knows her stuff.

  9. And Your Name Is Jonah (1979)
    This made-for-TV movie about the travails and triumphs of a deaf child misdiagnosed with mental disability shows the power of communication and the importance of having a determined champion in your corner.

  10. The Miracle Worker (1962)
    Our list would not be complete without Patty Duke’s famed performance as Helen Keller and Anne Bancroft’s commanding turn as her teacher, Annie Sullivan, roles for which both actresses earned Academy Awards.