Children of a Lesser God is a 1986 American romantic drama film directed by Randa Haines and written by Hesper Anderson and Mark Medoff. An adaptation of Medoff's Tony Award–winning stage play of the same name, the film stars Marlee Matlin (in an Oscar-winning performance) and William Hurt as employees at a school for the deaf: a deaf custodian and a hearing speech teacher, whose conflicting ideologies on speech and deafness create tension and discord in their developing romantic relationship.
Marking the film debut for deaf actress Matlin, Children of a Lesser God is notable for being the first since the 1926 silent film You'd Be Surprised to feature a deaf actor in a major role.
After meeting deaf actress Phyllis Frelich in 1977 at the University of Rhode Island's New Repertory Project, playwright Medoff wrote the play Children of a Lesser God to be her star vehicle. Based partially on Frelich's relationship with her hearing husband Robert Steinberg, the play chronicles the turmoiled relationship and marriage between a reluctant-to-speak deaf woman and an unconventional speech pathologist for the deaf. With Frelich starring, Children of a Lesser God opened on Broadway in 1980, received three Tony Awards, including Best Play, and ran for 887 performances before closing in 1982.
Enjoying the vast success of his Broadway debut, Medoff, with fellow writer Anderson, penned a screenplay adapted from the original script. Though many changes were made, the core love story remained intact. The adaptation premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 13, 1986 and was released widely in the United States on October 3 of the same year. Like its source material, the film generally gained praise from the hearing and deaf communities alike.
It received five Academy Award nominations, including Matlin's win for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role. Only 21 years old at the time, Matlin is the youngest actress to receive the award in this particular category and the only deaf Academy Award recipient in any category. Children of a Lesser God was the first ever female-helmed film to be nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Picture category.