Deaf Dancers and Superheroes: representation and why it matters.


On Saturday 13th November, Rose Ayling-Ellis and Giovanni Pernice performed an emotional dance on Strictly Come Dancing; it made viewers all across the country tearful with the judges scoring them 39/40. In this contemporary dance, their “Couple’s Choice”, they celebrated “the joy of being deaf” and shared a special moment where they danced in complete silence. This piece was dedicated to the Deaf community and specifically the Deafinitely Theatre. Rose, a charismatic actor, was selected by Ted Evans to perform in “The End”, an award winning short film about four Deaf children from 1987-2046. Since then, she has been in EastEnders and Casualty amongst other short films and television shows. Her success brought her to Strictly where she quickly became the earliest contestant in Strictly history to achieve a perfect score of 40 just six weeks into the competition. Dame Evelyn Glennie, a grammy-winning percussionist who became almost completely deaf by the age of 12, called Rose a “wonderful role-model” yet wanted to emphasise that not all people who are Deaf “live in a world of silence”. This is something Rose touched upon in her Strictly introduction in which she said “you hear with body language, you hear with vibrations” and that she “can still enjoy music; it’s just a different experience”.


Rose explained that her “ambition is to amplify Deaf voices and to stop people assuming Deaf people can’t achieve. The challenges of dealing with people’s lack of understanding made [her] more determined and want to work harder.” Having her on Strictly Come Dancing along with a qualified British Sign Language (BSL) interpreter gives people who are not deaf a glimpse into her experiences as someone who is and her social media presence exudes a lot of positivity along with Deaf Awareness posts.


The Eternals, a new Marvel movie, was released on November 5th of this year. Despite it being controversial with its Rotten Tomatoes rating being 47%, it has also been highly praised for its representation: not only is the protagonist a woman, there is a great increase in the number of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) characters, Phastos is Marvel’s first superhero who is openly gay, and Lauren Ridloff portrays Makkari, a superhero with superspeed and quick reflexes; she is also the first Deaf superhero. Since the release of The Eternals, there has been a 250% increase in the number of people interested in learning sign language which suggests how much of an impact a Deaf character can have in making a film more inclusive. It is important that TV shows and films reflect the diverse world we live in.


This increase in diversity is a huge step forward in creating a film and television industry that is representative. 

For those interested in learning more, a good place to start is this short film named The Silent Child, released in 2020, which won an Oscar. ( Starring Maisie Sly, it follows Libby, a Deaf six-year-old, as she is provided with a social worker who teaches her how to communicate using BSL.