Oscars 2018: Ex-Hollyoaks star uses sign language in acceptance speech

Media captionRachel Shenton and Chris Overton on The Silent Child Oscars win


A film starring a six-year-old deaf British girl and made by two former Hollyoaks stars has won an Oscar.

The Silent Child, which tells the story of a girl who struggles to communicate, was named best live action short film.

It stars Maisie Sly, aged six, from Swindon, and Rachel Shenton, who played Mitzeee Minniver in the Channel 4 soap.

Shenton also wrote it and used sign language in her acceptance speech. It was directed by Chris Overton – AKA Hollyoaks cage fighter Liam McAllister.

“I made a promise to our six-year-old lead actress that I would sign this speech,” Shenton said while accepting the statuette at Sunday’s ceremony in Hollywood.

“My hands are shaking a little bit so I apologise,” she added.

Media captionOscars 2018: Shenton promised to sign her speech

Maisie didn’t go up on stage to collect the award, but Overton told BBC 5 live: “When we won I could see her up there jumping up and down and that was surreal.

Rachel Shenton, Maisie Sly and Chris OvertonImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionMaisie Sly walked the red carpet with Rachel Shenton and Chris Overton

“But I think she’s taken it all in her stride. She always said we’d win.”

Shenton added: “She held the Oscar, she said it was very heavy, she had her photograph taken with it and then said she wanted to go back and see her brothers and sisters, so she’s keeping it real.”

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The Silent Child tells the story of a profoundly deaf four-year-old called Libby, played by Maisie. She lives a silent life until a social worker, played by Shenton, teaches her how to communicate through sign language.

Media captionMaisie is taking Hollywood life in her stride.

Giving her acceptance speech complete with sign language, Shenton said: “Our movie is about a deaf child being born into a world of silence. It’s not exaggerated or sensationalised for the movie.

“This is happening. Millions of children all over the world live in silence and face communication barriers, and particularly access to education.

“Deafness is a silent disability. You can’t see it and it’s not life threatening so I want to say the biggest of thank yous to the Academy for allowing us to put this in front of a mainstream audience.”

Rachel Shenton and Chris OvertonImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionOverton and Shenton are engaged

Shenton, from Stoke-on-Trent, was inspired to write the film by her father, who went deaf after receiving treatment for chemotherapy when she was 12.

She became a qualified British Sign Language Interpreter and ambassador for the National Deaf Children’s Society.

In his acceptance speech, Overton thanked Shenton – his fiancee. He said: “It’s really your hard work for the last 12 years that has really made this project authentic.”

Overton also thanked their parents for making cup cakes to raise funds for the film, and those who backed its crowdfunding campaign.

He told BBC Breakfast they raised “over £1,000 in cupcakes”.

“My mum and dad made the cupcakes and Rachel’s mum and her mum’s partner Nigel sold them at their work,” he said. “We crowdfunded this all by ourselves and we had the support of so many people, but it was made on a shoestring.”

The pair cast Maisie, who had never acted before, after a nationwide search involved advertising on the websites of deaf organisations. They auditioned 100 children before they found their star.

Maisie’s family had recently relocated 160 miles from Plymouth to Swindon so Maisie could attend a mainstream school where deaf children are supported.