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Why this year’s Oscars was important for deaf culture


This year’s Academy Awards was a big win for deaf culture. Not one, but two winning films featured important themes for the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, as well as deaf diversity in Hollywood. 

The films “The Silent Child,” and “The Shape of Water,” which won an Oscar for best Live Action Short Film and Best Picture respectively, showcased deaf actors and sign language. The reactions for these films have been overwhelming, and potentially show a big change to come.  

Deaf awareness in entertainment 

We’ve been following trends of #DeafTalent and it’s exciting to see more and more examples of mainstream TV, theatre, and cinema featuring deaf culture and sign language. Along with this year’s Oscar winners, Baby Driver and Wonderstruck also debuted last year, with themes about tinnitus and deafness. The show This Close, which follows the lives of two deaf friends and focuses on their “normal” lives instead of their disability, also debuted this year. It’s amazing to see that more and more films are showing some element of deafness and hearing loss and continuing to help raise awareness.

The Oscar winners

I finally had the chance to watch “The Silent Child,” and I was so enthralled that a short film, only 20 minutes long could make such an impact.

The film focuses on the life of a young girl, Libby (Maisie Sly), who is profoundly deaf and comes from a hearing family. The family is so absorbed and busy with their lives that they don’t notice Libby is feeling isolated and unable to communicate. It’s not until the social worker Joanne ( played by Rachel Shenton) comes along and teaches her sign language, that she becomes a bright, vibrant child, hungry for communication.

Read more: ‘The Silent Child’ wins Oscar for Live Action Short Film

I found the film was emotional and moving, as I could relate to the struggles that Libby faced being born into a hearing world. When I was growing up, my Teacher of the Deaf made a big impact on my own communication, when she joined my mum in helping me learn speech. Both my parents also watched the film and shed a couple of tears!

Read more: 3 Ways my Mom helped me Communicate with Hearing Loss

The film really touched on the importance of early access to communication for deaf children to ensure they get the right support in school. The right access can make a huge difference in a deaf child’s life and future. 

“The right access can make a huge difference in a deaf child’s life and future.”

The Shape of Water won this year’s main award, taking home the Oscar for “Best Picture.” In the movie, a “mute” janitor, played by Sally Hawkins, falls in love with a sea monster and they communicate using American Sign Language.

“To prep, Hawkins honed in on the role’s physicality, taking ASL lessons – ‘I would have given a year to it if I’d been allowed,’ she admits,” according to The Rolling Stone

The two films winning an Oscar increases the potential to reach a wide audience around the world, and it’s a fantastic way of raising Deaf awareness and highlighting the issues and barriers Deaf children face. Most of all, it shows Deaf people that they’re not alone.

Have you seen any of the Oscar-winning films? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Author Details
Ellie was born profoundly deaf, uses verbal communication, lipreads and wears Phonak Sky Q hearing aids. She is currently learning British Sign Language. Ellie hasn’t let her disability stand in the way and embraces every new challenge. Her deafness didn’t prevent her from achieving major accomplishments in her life, such as excelling in her education, previously working as a Marketing Executive and now as an Events Coordinator for a deaf organization, as well as blogging for Hearing Like Me. She is passionate about deaf awareness, campaigning for equality and helping others through her personal blog as Deafie Blogger.