A Quiet Place Star & Deaf Role Model Millicent Simmonds Interview 2022
Without any deaf role models, Millicent lists her parents, Malala and early 20th century author Helen Keller who lost her hearing and sight to illness at 19 months as her heroes. As I suggest to her, role models should never be pigeonholed to inspire a community at any given time, role models can inspire anyone, anywhere, says Millicent: “Yes, absolutely! Thank you so much for even saying that it’s not just about being deaf but about any other marginalized community, anyone who feels different from the mainstream. I want all these people to accept each other. The things that make you different can also make things difficult for you, but we can have a bigger impact on the world.
One difference we all need to unite to change is the recognition of British Sign Language as an official language, a campaign currently being led by Come dance strictly winner and actress, Rose Ayling-Ellis with over 150,000 people using British Sign Language across the UK, of whom around 87,000 rely entirely on it to communicate. “I just heard about it myself and was really shocked,” Millicent said before reflecting on why this move is vital.
“In the United States, it’s considered a language. It has its own history, its own culture. It helps provide access and communication for deaf children so they can connect with each other and thrive in a community. It’s really unbelievable. But that’s exactly why we need more deaf representation on screen. We need people to be more aware, to change the perspective that deaf people are like everyone else. They need accessibility to experience equality. There has to be flexibility offered, we need people who are not deaf to learn how to sign and meet us in the middle, right? We can’t meet you in all the ways you need. We need to unite on this.
For real change to also occur, actors with disabilities need to be presented and viewed as four-dimensional characters and not defined by disability. As Millicent reveals, “I don’t think there’s really a finish line,” when it comes to representation, Millicent aims to show the deaf community in its multifaceted glory with its latest project – which also produces and is part of the writing process – TV Show, tropes. “I hope it will be funny. We want to see something that doesn’t reflect the struggles of deaf people. We want to have cheesy moments, cheesy romance in there and just show deaf people who aren’t victims and aren’t helpless. I think we’ve seen enough. I would really like to change this kind of tired narrative. I want to show deaf people for who they are and tell a story we’ve never heard before.
Having not only taken her own place at the table in the entertainment industry, through her work, Millicent feels, “I created my own table for others to join me.” In particular, last month CODA became the first film with a predominantly Deaf cast to receive a SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture in yet another leap forward, and Millicent has clear hopes for those following her at said table. “I hope there are no limits placed on them,” she tells me, “and that they can perform at their best and don’t feel like they’re inferior. I want them to feel like they’re on par with their peers.
Public voting for the EE Rising Star award is open at ee.co.uk/BAFTA until March 11 and the winner will be announced at the EE British Academy Film Awards on Sunday March 13, 2022.