History Through Deaf Eyes – On Screen

Movies and television have reflected and shaped public perceptions of deaf people and other minority groups. From 1902 until 1986, according to one historian’s account, over 150 movies and network TV programs had deaf characters. Until recently, these characters were rarely played by deaf actors, nor did they accurately portray the experiences of deaf people. The typical media image of a deaf person was a lonely, dependent, uneducated, often tragic figure, seldom an independent member of a close-knit community.

Jane Wyman

Jane Wyman played a deaf character opposite Lew Ayers in the 1948 film Johnny Belinda. Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research

Heather Sears and Joan Crawford

In The Story of Esther Costello, released in 1957, Heather Sears played a deaf student and Joan Crawford her teacher. “The Story of Esther Costello” ©1957, renewed 1985 Valiant Films Inc. All Rights Reserved, Courtesy of Columbia Pictures.