Disability and Representation in “Hawkeye”

Photo by Tracy Fuentes

By Brigita Przybylski

Disney+’s Hawkeye, a six-episode Marvel TV series released on November 24th, focuses on Clint Barton aka Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Kate Bishop (Hailee Steinfeld). Although recent Marvel content like Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals have brought much-needed representation to Marvel, Hawkeye expands on disability and other representation in many ways. Besides the lack of religious representation with the show focusing on Christmas, Hawkeye touches on deafness, Native American representation, and female representation.

Deaf Representation 

One type of disability represented in Hawkeye is deafness. After years of fighting and encountering explosions, Clint has lost most of his hearing, causing him to become partially deaf and wear hearing aids. This depiction of Clint parallels his character in Matt Fraction and David Aja’s “My Life as a Weapon” Hawkeye comics where he is portrayed as being deaf, bringing accuracy to the MCU from the Marvel comics. This provides realism to his mortal character and reminds viewers that even though Clint is a superhero, he is also just a person, unlike other Avengers, making Hawkeye more relatable. Additionally, Jeremy Renner is hard of hearing in real life, allowing him to portray his character with more realism and from personal experiences. 

Native American Representation 

One group that remains heavily underrepresented and inaccurately portrayed in media are Native Americans. However, Hawkeye provides a space for and representation of this group through the antagonist Maya Lopez aka Echo (Alaqua Cox), leader of the Tracksuit Mafia. Alaqua is deaf and Native American, mirroring her character. Interestingly, this is Alaqua’s first acting role. She only auditioned for the role because she saw a casting sheet calling for a deaf Native American actor fluent in sign language, and thought she fit too perfectly not to audition. Sign language is used throughout the show, mostly by Maya but also by Clint. 

The show’s subtitles don’t always reflect everything the characters say, but not in a bad way. For example, Maya does a lot of lip reading and isn’t always able to make out everything other characters are saying. In a scene in episode 5, when Clint reveals to Maya that he is Ronin, there are close-up shots of Clint’s mouth and Maya’s eyes, with only certain words in the subtitles of what Clint is saying instead of complete sentences. Making the audience experience some of what Maya experiences in her everyday life. Additionally, Maya has a sign language interpreter, Kazi Kazimierczak (Fra Fee), who is also a part of the Tracksuit Mafia. These details provide more realism to the show’s characters and portrayal of deafness.  

And not only is Alaqua Native American, so is the actor that plays Maya’s father, William Lopez (Zahn McClarnon), who is half Native American in real life. There is a scene in episode 3 where young Maya (Darnell Besaw) and her father discuss not being able to afford to send her to a deaf school. This scene brings up real economic issues that people with disabilities face which create additional limitations and challenges. Additionally, Alaqua is an amputee, and although not part of her character in the comics, this part of Alaqua was not hidden or ignored, providing additional representation to groups that don’t usually see themselves portrayed on screen. 

Female Representation  

All too often, superhero media tends to sexualize women and portray them as objects while also giving female characters significantly less screen time compared to male characters. Kate’s character counters all of these. Kate is as equally a main character as Clint, where they are both protagonists. The first episode of the show even opens with the first two scenes focusing on Kate before switching to a scene with Clint. 

In episode 1, for the charity event Kate attends for her mother, there is a formal attire dress code and Kate is shown wearing a black suit with a tie and boots, not a dress and heels. Even though this clothing choice is to her benefit as it allows her to blend in with waiters to become incognito, this subtle rejection of gender norms and rules is something not seen much in the MCU so far. Kate’s costume design is not created for the intention to please male viewers through the male gaze, unlike most female superhero costumes. Even the fact that Kate wears her hair in a ponytail and not down all the time is something only seen more recently in the MCU, like with the 2021 movie Black Widow. These seemingly small choices surrounding Kate’s character are much needed in action movies and the MCU that impact how female characters are viewed. 

Additionally, Kate’s superhero costume is not fully comic book accurate, but all for the best. Instead of having sexualized cutouts or other skin-revealing components, Kate’s costume consists of long pants, a long-sleeve turtleneck, and boots. Kate’s costume is equal to Clint’s costume and makes sense due to the setting of the show being during the winter season in New York City. Maya’s costume also differs from her comic book portrayal, where she wears a leather jacket in the show. But again, this costume design makes sense due to the weather and allows Maya’s martial art skills to be highlighted in fighting scenes instead of her looks. 

Hawkeye’s depiction of Kate is especially important because of her age and also because Clint refers to Kate as “kid” multiple times. Being 22 years old, Kate is younger compared to previous female superheroes in the MCU like Black Widow or Wanda Maximoff who are 10 plus years older. Although Kate is technically an adult, the late teens and early 20s are ages that tend to still be dependents of their parents. In the show, Kate attends college and although she has an apartment (that quickly burns up in flames), it is explicitly stated that she inherited it. Furthermore, women in their teens and 20s are most sexualized by men in society, making this portrayal of Kate, with an absence of the male gaze, essential in reframing how women should be perceived. Kate’s looks are not made to be a focusing point, where her character and story are more important than how she dresses and looks on screen, unlike previous MCU female characters. This portrayal results in a respectful representation of women that allows Kate’s personality and skills to be showcased. 

Furthermore, the funny characters in movies and TV shows tend to be male characters. In the MCU, think about Peter Quill and Scott Lang or how Tony Stark is always making jokes in The Avengers movies but the female characters rarely do. However, in Hawkeye, Kate and Yelena Belova (Florence Pugh) are humorous characters. In episode 5, there is a scene where Yelena breaks into Kate’s apartment and they talk about Clint Barton while eating macaroni and cheese. Parts of this funny scene were improvised, specifically about Yelena’s love for hot sauce. Hawkeye shows that male characters aren’t the only ones who can or should be funny. 

Expanding diversity and portraying accurate representations of various groups on screen is important in order to reflect what the real world looks like. Hawkeye, along with recent MCU content, is a big improvement compared to representation in the MCU previously and will hopefully create lasting impacts for future content, especially with Marvel Studios’ upcoming Hawkeye spinoff series Echo.

Sources 

Miller, Nathan. “Alaqua Cox Talks Casting and Representation in ‘Hawkeye’.” Murphy’s Multiverse, 16 Oct. 2021, http://www.murphysmultiverse.com/alaqua-cox-talks-casting-and-representation-in-hawkeye/. 

Plainse, Josh. “Hawkeye: Jeremy Renner Explains How Clint’s Hearing Loss Mirrors Real Life.” Screen Rant, 18 Nov. 2021, screenrant.com/hawkeye-jeremy-renner-hearing-loss-real-life-comparison/.

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