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‘This Award Will Change The Diversity Conversation’

© Backgrid

After The Silent Child won Best Live Action Short at the Oscars, its creator and star – former Hollyoaks actress Rachel Shenton, – explains why it’s a watershed moment...

I’ve been lIvIng in a wonderful, surreal dream-world ever since the moment our names were called out at last week’s Oscars ceremony. Sitting at the front next to the stage, I was a nervous wreck. I went from daunted to emotional to utter disbelief to ‘Oh my god! I need to get up on stage and speak in front of 33 million people now.’

I made a promise to Maisie Sly, the six-year-old deaf star of our film, that if we won, I’d do my speech in sign language. 
I didn’t want her to have to look at her interpreter and take her eyes off the stage. When we were casting, we did a nationwide search to find her. We contacted all the deaf charities in the UK and saw over 100 kids. Then Maisie walked in and blew us away. She’s so bright and absolutely brilliant.

The Silent Child was a very personal passion project. It took two years to make and there was absolutely no financial incentive. I wrote it in my bedroom then we crowdfunded the project for nine months – it cost £10,000. From the very beginning, my dad was my inspiration.

He went deaf two years before he died, when I was 14. He’s the reason I learned sign language and got involved with the deaf community. He was the person I was thinking of up on stage, wishing so badly he was watching me from the audience. I know he'd be incredibly proud.

Being at the first post-Weinstein Oscars was amazing. You could feel the change in the air – the way women and diversity were being celebrated. It felt more progressive and like there’s a spotlight on diversity now. It’s really important to remember that disability, including deafness, is diversity. Disability is hugely underrepresented in lm but this is the year that’s all changing.

As incredible as the glamour was, Chris [Overton] – my fiancé and the director of The Silent Child – and I weren’t interested in partying with the A-list stars afterwards. It was being with our parents and the film crew that mattered most to us. We popped into the Vanity Fair after-party, grabbed a burger, had a quick chat with Allison Janney [who won Best Supporting Actress for her role in I, Tonya] and left in under five minutes. We rushed off to celebrate 
with our families and team back at our apartment. It was really important that we got back and showed them the award.

Next, I want to make the film feature- length or turn it into a drama. I’ve got an excited feeling this is just the beginning for deafness in film. Ours wasn’t sensationalised, it’s a reality for thousands of children living in a world of silence: they face communication barriers and lack of access to education. So I hope this contributes to getting sign language and deaf awareness into the curriculum in schools and on to our screens more. If we’ve started something with The Silent Child, I’ll be very proud.

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