Eternals star Lauren Ridloff has explained how she helped to create completely new sign language gestures specifically for the MCU movie.
In an exclusive interview with TechRadar, Ridloff – the first deaf actor to play a Marvel superhero – revealed that completely new hand movements were invented so that she could identify specific characters when filming certain scenes.
As Ridloff explained, names like 'Ikaris', 'Sersi' and 'Phastos' don't exist in American Sign Language (ASL). In order to sign the names of her fellow Eternals, then, Ridloff – who plays Makkari – worked alongside husband Douglas Ridloff, who was employed as an ASL consultant on the film, to create signs for each character.
"[Our director] Chloé Zhao doesn't know American Sign Language," Ridloff said. "So we had to work out how we'd be able to direct the cast and what they [signing each Eternal's name] would look like on screen.
"Our ASL consultant happened to be my husband, who also worked on A Quiet Place and its sequel. He and I worked with Chloé to give those nuances of what looked good on screen and to come up with specific signs for each character, which the entire cast and Chloé could use."
Speaking about his experiences on set, Kumail Nanjiani, who portrays Kingo, also explained how the Ridloffs taught the rest of the cast to sign authentically, which allowed them to talk to Ridloff when they shared screen time.
"Lauren and Douglas taught us a lot," Nanjiani said. "It was really important to me that, when Kingo talks to Makkari, he also uses sign language. Both of them were very patient with us, especially when the dialogue was rewritten the night before the next day of filming.
"I'd get nervous because I wanted to do a good job and be natural on camera. So I would text Douglas and he would send me videos of himself signing each word. The next day, I'd come on to set having practiced what was in each video, and he and Lauren would go over them again and again to really get a handle on it. That helped me to just do it and not overthink it. Learning ASL was definitely one of the most satisfying things I did on Eternals."
Analysis: Eternals represents a new start for the MCU
Eternals marks the beginning of a new era of inclusivity in the MCU. Historically, Marvel has been criticized for its lack of genuine representation, but it seems that the studio is finally turning a corner with its latest superhero flick.
For one, Eternals' cast is the most diverse line-up of superheroes in any Marvel film to date. Five of its 10 superpowered beings are female, while only three Eternals are white. Ridloff's Makkari and Brian Tyree Henry's Phastos are also the first deaf and openly gay superheroes to appear in the MCU.
Given that most Marvel films to date have starred white, cisgender males, Eternals feels like a huge step in the right direction. Of course, it'll take more than one movie for Marvel to be viewed as a champion of inclusivity – only two of its future Phase 4 films, The Marvels and Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, are led by entirely female or Black actor ensembles.
But Eternals shows that Marvel is doing something to rectify its past mistakes. Providing that the studio continues to diversify its superhero line-up with future movies and TV shows, criticism of its predominantly white, straight male roster should become a thing of the past.
While you wait for Eternals to arrive in theaters on November 5, why not check out what else is coming as part of Marvel's Phase 4 plans? Alternatively, read up on why Eternals' reviews haven't been overwhelmingly positive.
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