Sign Language in Hollywood
In the last year, there has been a number of films released with Deaf or disabled actors cast as intrinsic characters to the storyline. These stories have always been there but it’s not until recently that mainstream productions have decided to include more variety in their narratives. Here are our favourites…
A Quiet Place, 2018
A Quiet Place is a horror with stellar cast and minimal dialogue. This film has the entire movie theatre holding their breath. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, not too far from reality, it follows a family who have survived due to their ability to communicative with Sign Language. This simple, clever narrative creates suspense while also addressing issues every family can relate to and expressing the frustrations of the oldest daughter Regan (played by Millicent Simmonds) for not being trusted to fend for herself due to Deafness.
Baby Driver is about a young getaway driver, drawn into the world of bank robbing because of his impressive driving skills. Baby has Tinnitus and communicates with his Deaf foster father via American Sign Language and lip reading. The directors never explicitly said the protagonist has Asperger’s but there are multiple, gentle indications to this in the story line. Baby is a little alienated, he finds it hard to communicate in the same way as others and music is a big part of his life.
The Silent Child, 2017
The Silent Child is a short drama written by and starring Rachel Shenton (previously in Hollyoaks). It tells the story of Libby (played by Maisie Sly), a Deaf four-year old girl with hearing parents. Libby lives in silence until a social worker (played by Rachel Shenton) helps her learn how to communicate with sign language. The film was based on Rachel Shenton’s own experiences as a hearing child of a parent who became deaf. It has been making waves and gaining popularity among the BSL community because it won the Live Action Short Film category at the 90th Academy Awards.
The Shape of Water, 2017
The Shape of Water tells the story of a mute custodian at a government laboratory as she falls in love with an imprisoned creature, a hybrid between a human and an amphibian. The film highlights the possibility of love transcending different cultures and languages with stunning visuals and cinematography. It won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Score, and Best Production Design at the 90thAcademy Awards.
Wonderstruck follows the story of two children as they live in different decades (separated by 50 years) but are united by their experiences of Deafness and brave ambitions to pursue their dreams.
There have been more films with references to sign language communication released recently but not all have expressed these themes of connections and adversity accurately and creatively (for example, Mute on Netflix). It’s important that these stories are told well and the best way to do that is by listening to genuine perspectives and histories. It’s a great sign that casting and script writing in Hollywood is increasingly including diversity, however, we have some way to go before everyone’s voice is heard and perceived as equal. Perhaps the next step is Deaf actors cast and Deaf characters written into narratives without their Deafness being the key point of focus.