While characters wearing eyeglasses — real or as props — are commonplace in movies and TV, hearing aids are seldom seen on the screen — especially on leading ladies.
That's why actress Tessa Thompson was honored to play a strong woman who wears the devices in the upcoming Rocky franchise spin-off, "Creed," in theaters Nov. 25.
Thompson plays Bianca, the love interest of title character Adonis Creed, and we learn early in the film that she has degenerative hearing loss.
"People with disabilities are hugely underrepresented and not talked about enough in culture, particularly film culture," Thompson said in a weekend interview in Philadelphia to promote the movie.
The actress says the lack of these roles speaks to the way a disability is perceived and perhaps contributes to a screen stigma about the wearing of hearing aids.
"We tend to think about it through our own lens as someone who is not disabled, we think of it as something so terrible, because we can't fathom it for ourselves," Thompson suggested.
That's why it was important for the actress to play the character with a blend of confidence in the present and optimism for the future. For example, she openly discusses her hearing loss with Adonis, while learning sign language in preparation for the day when she loses her hearing completely.
"I think it was important for Bianca to tell the story of someone doing the best that she can," Thompson said. "Would she prefer to not be dealing with that at certain points? Yes. But she also maybe sees it as an opportunity, and it in no way makes her feel like she's not capable."
The idea for the character's situation came from director Ryan Coogler, whose fiancee works as a sign language interpreter.
"It makes her character richer and you learn a lot about her," Coogler said. "It's not in a way where she's ashamed of it at all."
In the film, Bianca provides the same support for Adonis as Rocky's love interest, Adrian, gave her man decades earlier. Adonis is the son of Rocky Balboa's rival and eventual friend in the earlier films, Apollo Creed. Adonis sets out to find Rocky to train him. Sylvester Stallone reprises his role as a legendary boxer, with Michael B. Jordan as Creed.
While the film offers the same inspirational punch as others in the Rocky series, Thompson feels this one takes it to another level by addressing the challenge of hearing loss.
"If I was someone that was dealing with this and I got to see that on film, it would make me feel really empowered and proud that my story was served," Thompson said. "I'm hoping that's how people feel about it."