Actress Millicent Simmonds has said the increase in representation on-screen has helped the deaf community feel like their lives are “limitless” now and has created more “empathy and inclusiveness” in society.
The A Quiet Place star, who is nominated for the Bafta EE rising star award, revealed she did not think a career in acting was a possibility while growing up due to not seeing fellow deaf actors in films or television shows.
The 18-year-old will portray the late author and activist Helen Keller in the forthcoming movie Helen & Teacher, which will explore her life at Harvard University’s Radcliffe College in the early 1900s where she became the first deafblind person to earn a graduate degree.
Simmonds told the PA news agency: “When I was growing up I didn’t see myself on screen, I didn’t see signing on-screen or a deaf person with a cochlear implant. I wasn’t sure that acting was even possible for me.
“But now it’s not only me, there’s a lot of other deaf people on the screen.
“And people have been saying to me that really my life is limitless now, and they feel that way about themselves too, because they can see this on the screen.
“And for non-deaf people, I think it’s created more empathy, more inclusiveness for everyone, not just for myself. And that’s really 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 together as they are able to better understand what she has been going through and they can experience it through her eyes.
She admitted that being a representative for the deaf community was a “big responsibility” but said that it had motivated her to be the role model that she did not have growing up.
Simmonds had her breakout role aged 12 in 2017’s Wonderstruck before later starring in the 2018 horror film A Quiet Place as the deaf daughter of a couple, played by John Krasinski and Emily Blunt.
Krasinski, who directed the project, advocated for a deaf actress to play the role, which Simmonds said she was “grateful” for as she feels it allowed her to give people a “unique, new perspective” on the experience of being in a post-apocalyptic world.
The actress told PA that taking on the role of Helen Keller in the upcoming biopic was a “huge honour” as her story was one of those that inspired her as a child.
She explained that the film will focus on Helen’s coming-of-age story and will explore her becoming the first deafblind person on a college campus.
The film will also see Rachel Brosnahan play Anne Sullivan, who was Helen’s teacher and friend.
And people have been saying to me that really my life is limitless now, and they feel that way about themselves too, because they can see this on the screen
Another of her upcoming projects will see her star in a series based on Sara Novic’s forthcoming novel True Biz, which follows the lives of students at a school for the deaf.
Simmonds noted that she does not feel representation of marginalised communities would ever be “perfect” on-screen, but feels there have been steps in the right direction including creating characters that are more multi-dimensional.
“I feel like a lot of deaf people don’t want to see themselves represented as helpless or victims in their movies,” 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 keep pushing that idea of deaf people in these various spaces.
“I think it makes it more fun and we’re offering a new perspective on deaf lifestyles being more than just one option.”
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.