The film ‘The Silent Child,’ which followed a young deaf girl being isolated until taught sign language, has won the Oscar for Best Live Action short film.
When Rachel Shelton – the film’s writer – collected the Oscar at the 90th Academy Awards, she used British Sign Language (BSL) when delivering her acceptance speech. Shelton, who also starred as the social worker who taught ‘the silent child’ sign language, told the audience:
“I made a promise to our six-year-old lead actress that I’d sign this speech and my hands are shaking a bit so I apologise.”
— BBC Wiltshire (@BBCWiltshire) March 5, 2018
THE. SILENT. CHILD. HAS. WON. AN. OSCAR.
— Andy Howard (@AndyLHoward) March 5, 2018
The lead actress was Maisie Sly. She was cast following a nationwide search advertising on deaf organisation websites. They auditioned 100 children before giving Maisie the role in the crowdfunded film. Although this was her acting debut, her incredible acting led to her winning ‘Best Actress’ in the Rhode Island International Film Festival and ‘Best Actress under 18’ at Hollywood International Moving Picture Film Festival. Profoundly deaf herself, Maisie Sly plays Libby: a deaf four year old, born into a hearing, middle class family. Her family – two older siblings, overwhelmed mother and workaholic father – are uneducated about Libby’s deafness and wish to ‘normalise’ her.
The family hire social worker Joanne, telling her:
‘We have quite low expectations. We just want [Libby] to be a little more confident in time for school.’
Joanne starts bonding with Libby with sign language. One day, Libby (who’d previously been a quiet, withdrawn child) opens up slightly and communicates to Joanne: signing she’d like orange juice. When Joanne reports back to the family about Libby’s progress, the mother Sue insists that she should focus on lip-reading.
It’s here, and in many other places of the film, that the film draws stark parallels to the experience of deaf children; measures aren’t made to benefit the deaf individual, but rather the child is expected to adapt to what is easier for the hearing (in this example, her family).
Rachel Shelton referred to these true experiences in her acceptance speech:
“It’s not exaggerated or sensationalised for the movie. This is happening. Millions of children all over the world live in silence and face communication barriers, and particularly access to education.”
Here’s the film trailer:
The film closes with a postscript saying that 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents (therefore limiting communication and understanding between parent and child) and that 78% of them attend school with no specialist support in place. The film also requests for BSL to be included in the National Curriculum.
NOTE: The Silent Child film is now available on Google Play for £1.49: