Actress Millicent Simmonds said increased on-screen representation has helped the deaf community feel their lives are now “boundless” and led to more “empathy and inclusivity” in society.
The A Quiet Place star, who is nominated for a Bafta EE Rising Star Award, revealed she didn’t think an acting career was possible growing up because she didn’t see other deaf actors in movies or TV shows.
The 18-year-old will portray the late author and activist Helen Keller in the upcoming film Helen & Teacher, which explores her life at Harvard University’s Radcliffe College in the early 1900s, where she became the first deaf-blind person to graduate.
Simmonds told the PA news agency: “Growing up I didn’t see myself on screen, I didn’t see gestures on screen or a deaf person with a cochlear implant. I wasn’t sure if acting was even possible for me.
“But now I’m not alone anymore, there are many other deaf people on screen.
“And people have been telling me that my life is really limitless now, and they feel that way because they can see that on screen.
“And for the non-deaf, I think it created more empathy, more inclusion for everyone, not just me. And that is very important to me personally.”
The actress added that being able to portray her own lived experience on the big screen has helped bring her family closer because they can better understand what she’s been going through and experience it through their eyes.
She admitted that being a representative of the deaf community is a “huge responsibility” but said it motivated her to be the role model she didn’t have growing up.
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Simmonds had her breakout role at age 12 in 2017’s Wonderstruck before later appearing in the 2018 horror film A Quiet Place as the deaf daughter of a couple, played by John Krasinski and Emily Blunt.
Krasinski, who led the project, endorsed a deaf actress for the role, which Simmonds said she was “grateful” for, believing it allowed her to give people a “unique, new perspective” on the experience to give to be in a post -apocalyptic world.
The actress told PA that taking on the role of Helen Keller in the upcoming biopic was a “huge honor” as her story was one of the ones that inspired her as a child.
She explained that the film will focus on Helen’s coming-of-age story and explore how she becomes the first deaf-blind person on a college campus.
In the film, Rachel Brosnahan will also play Anne Sullivan, who was Helen’s teacher and friend.
And people have been telling me that my life is really limitless now, and they’re feeling that about themselves too, because they can see that on screenMillicent Simmonds
Another of her upcoming projects will see her appear in a series based on Sara Novic’s upcoming novel True Biz, which follows the lives of students at a school for the deaf.
Simmonds noted that she didn’t think the screen’s portrayal of marginalized communities would ever be “perfect,” but that there have been steps in the right direction, including creating characters that are multidimensional.
“I feel like a lot of deaf people don’t want their films to portray them as helpless or victims,” she added.
“I think they want to see deaf people like themselves in normal situations, whether it’s a horror movie or a sci-fi movie, and I want to push that idea of deaf people further in those different areas.
“I think it’s more fun and we offer a new perspective on how deaf lifestyles are more than just an option.”
Public voting for the EE Rising Star Award is open until March 11th at ee.co.uk/BAFTA and the winner will be announced at the EE British Academy Film Awards on Sunday March 13th.
https://www.independent.ie/entertainment/movies/millicent-simmonds-representation-has-helped-the-deaf-community-feel-limitless-41410283.html Millicent Simmonds: Representation has helped the deaf community feel borderless