Joanne Skeels: Masked superheroes – the ‘Bane’ of lipreading

Posted on July 31, 2012

2012 will probably be remembered for these:  the banks fiascos, the sad death of Whitney Houston, tax evasion, Murray Mania, the Olympics and yet another rainy summer.

The year’s not over yet, though.

However, for Cinema, it has been the year of the superheroes. First there was The Avengers with the coolest ensemble of superheroes you could imagine on the screen: Thor, Captain America, Iron Man and The Hulk alongside Black Widow and Hawkeye. The Amazing Spiderman (with a career defining role for a fellow brit Andrew Garfield) was next, and last but not least The Dark Knight Rises.

It was when The Amazing Spiderman was due for cinema release that I found myself in a predicament. Do I go and see the film, despite knowing that I will not be able to lip-read Spiderman’s mask?

I’m used to confusion when visiting the cinema. You may wonder why, as a deaf person, I go to the cinema and not see subtitled films? Firstly where I live, there is a lack of subtitles provided by my local cinemas, and when they do, the films I want to see are either not subtitled or at the wrong time and day. So I take the risk of missing most of the dialogue, and relying on the visuals to see the films I really want to see.

This did not stop me from going to see Spiderman.  I went, with the expectations, and from reading interviews and reviews, that the majority of the film was focused on Peter Parker, and not so much on Spiderman.  So I could get away with understanding the film and its plot, but the confusion did not escape me when there was lot of dialogue spoken by Spiderman.

On the other hand, I refused to go and see The Dark Knight Rises, for this simple fact: Bane.

Bane, played by Tom Hardy (another fantastic British actor), is the villain in the film, and his face is covered by a mask that gives him super strength serum.  Because of this, his lines were muffled and promoted complaints that it was less enjoyable not being able to understand what Bane was saying and ruined the film. While I understand the frustration and not being able to follow dialogue does makes an impact on enjoying a film, it is something I go through every day. Lip-reading is hard at the best of times. Even harder when trying to lip-read a mask!

So I ask this question: do superheroes REALLY have to wear a mask? I know a mask is essential for a superhero, and to preserve their identities, but does it have to be the whole face? Look at Batman: his mask only covers his upper part of his face, not the lower half, so it is possible to lip-read him (though who can lip-read Christian Bale the way he mumbles?). Superman is possibly the best ‘deaf-friendly’ superhero. He doesn’t even wear a mask, only glasses!

Marvel has developed a superhero character named ‘Blue Ear’ (granted: it’s not the most original and awesome name for a superhero) to provide a positive role model for a young American deaf boy.  Maybe in the future, well see a deaf superhero on screen. I would like to think so: if only to give my lip-reading brain a break!

Joanne Skeels is a writer and aspiring actress living in Essex (TOWIE cast, watch out!). She watches TV and films obsessively, often accompanied by her two dogs, although they tend to steal all the popcorn.

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