The Silent Child and The Shape of Water, or Why I Stayed Up Too Late Last Night

Those that know me know that I live a lot of my life straddling two very different cultures, languages, and groups of people: The hearing world and the Deaf Community. I was born into the hearing world – I have no Deaf parents, siblings, or indeed any family that are Deaf. I am a NERDA: Not Even Related to a Deaf Adult (as opposed to a CODA – Child of a Deaf Adult – or SODA – Sibling of…you get the idea).

I started learning American Sign Language when I was about 10-11 years old, from a Deaf friend of mine and fellow clergy kid. We saw each other at United Methodist events for clergy and summer camp, and she taught me to communicate with her – which, I learned when I was much older – was her idiosyncratic “dialect,” if you will, of ASL. But proper ASL or not, she taught me to think in three dimensions, to see everything as a picture rather than a string of words, haphazardly strung together and exhaled in an attempt to communicate. Whereas English is clunky and burdened with rules and auditory cues for intonation and emotion, ASL is streamlined. There is grammar, of course – it is a proper language after all – but learning it felt less like the verb sheets in high school Spanish and more like being let in on a magical secret. I can communicate with someone in another car with the windows rolled up. I can tell you that I am paying attention AND that I understand what you’re saying all with a twitch of my nose. Truth be told, I fell in love HARD with ASL (and all signed languages, really), and I haven’t bothered to get back up and brush myself off. Not to be maudlin, but while English is my first language and therefore (most of the time) the language of my mind, ASL is the language of my heart. I can say things in ASL that I physically, mentally, and emotionally CANNOT in English.

So, when I learned about the crowd-funded short film called The Silent Child, you know I had to learn more. I only wish I had known about it sooner! I fell in love with Maisie Sly, the actress that plays the lead role. To have that much ability and emotion at the age of six is extraordinary. If you can get a copy of it (currently on Google and YouTube here in the US, not sure about other parts of the world yet), DO IT. I was explaining to a co-worker this morning that Maisie’s character Libby is just like so many Deaf children here in the US and around the world who suffer lasting effects from language deprivation just because they are not allowed to sign when they are young. And before you come out from behind your sofa and shout at me that they need to learn the spoken language of their country of origin, there is no reason why the signed language of that country can’t be used in that respect.

I sat down to watch the Oscars not expecting The Silent Child to be another Children of a Lesser God, but had fingers crossed just the same. The nominees for that category were AMAZING, all in their own right – but when they announced the winner, it was like a victory for ASL. The writer and starring actress, Rachel Shenton, is a qualified BSL interpreter as well as an actress, and it was her passion for making sure Deaf children have the same access to APPROPRIATE language as their hearing peers that made this film possible. I bought it from Google Movies this morning and have watched it twice today..and to say it hits me in the feels is an understatement.

I can’t say as much about the Oscar-winning picture, The Shape of Water, because I haven’t seen it yet. When it first came out, the trailer was plastered ALL OVER MY FACEBOOK WALL because it has signing in it. “Is this a Deaf actress, Nancy?” “What do you think about this?” “Are you going to see it?”

At first, the answer to that was no. The movement now to fill Deaf roles with Deaf actors is very important to me for many reasons, not the least of which being it is a point where my two dearest loves (ASL and Theatre) intersect and overlap. So on first blush I was afraid this was yet another one of THOSE films and I pretended that it didn’t exist. That’s about as much as I do these days as far as protesting something goes. It was a monster movie, too, and those aren’t my usual genre of choice, so it was a win-win for me.

Until it wasn’t. The role was filled by a hearing actor because the character is mute, not Deaf. She signs to communicate expressively but hears to communicate receptively, and therefore a Deaf actress would have not been the right choice for the role.

I have other rants already prepared about only casting Deaf actors in roles written as Deaf rather than as a viable choice for any role in the name of diversity, but I will put that back in my pocket for now.

If I can get myself to sit through a monster movie, I will watch The Shape of Water now, not only because it won Best Picture or it has ASL in it, but also because it looks to be a visually stunning film – and that is part and parcel of the Deaf experience, isn’t it? Conveying emotion and story by showing rather than telling? On my list of to-do after watching this film is to stop feeling the need to correct everyone that is WRONG ON THE INTERNET about how Rachel Shenton could barely sign the acceptance speech at the Oscars last night or how the parents were vilified for making the choice to force the child to learn speech rather than ASL…but, for now, I’m going to take a nap. If you have the means, though, see both of these movies.  Hollywood is making small steps to bring more diverse stories to the big screen (Coco, Black Panther, etc) so I can’t wait to see what is coming soon!

Recognize that young lady there?

No? I didn’t think you would. She’s Rachel Mazique, and she is the currently reigning Miss Deaf America. She was invited to perform “America the Beautiful” and “The Star Spangled Banner” in ASL at Super Bowl XVII this past weekend in Indianapolis.

Are you scratching your head now, as I was, wondering how you missed that? Well, let me tell you why. You missed it because NBC chose to film (in close up) Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, and Kelly Clarkson instead as they simultaneously performed the songs in English.

Oh, no wait, they did manage to film the choir of children that were singing with Ms. Clarkson.

What does that say to the Deaf community that tuned in to watch because they had heard she would be performing? It certainly explains the lack of sign language interpreter during those two parts of the pre-game festivities…I guess they thought they had that little bit of THE LAW covered when they asked Ms. Mazique to perform.

I’ll tell you what it says. Your language is an afterthought. Your language interferes with the general public being able to gaze longingly at pretty celebrities whilst they sing. Your community is not legitimate in our eyes, so we invited her as a token gesture which has NO actual meaning.

Think this is wrong? Yeah, me too. If you click on the link here you can sign a petition demanding that the NFL and NBC offer an apology to Ms. Mazique and the Deaf/HOH community for this blatant snub.

Marlee Matlin tweeted about the ability of the camera people to capture M.I.A.’s rude gesture but not Ms. Mazique’s performance.

When we expected some beautiful sign language during the #SuperBowl National Anthem, we got instead a “sign” during M.I.A.’s rap. Ahem.

Well said.


Count me in among the throngs of Americans that watched/listened to our 44th President being sworn in this morning. I was driving to an interpreting gig at 11:40am and listening to NPR’s coverage on the car radio…and I didn’t get past the opening remarks by Sen. Dianne Feinstein without having tears streaming down my face.

Why? Well, for one thing, I’m a Democrat. I have been a Democrat since I was old enough to know there were two main political parties in the United States. My parents are Democrats, though far more moderate/almost conservative than I in their political and social views. My sister and her husband are Democrats. I work in a social service field, often with the very people that make up the Grass Roots. The election of a Democratic president in concert with a Democratic congress to me signals a new era for my country and it makes me hopeful…something I haven’t been very often over the last eight years.

Another reason is that this is the last time I will watch an inauguration of an American president while living in America for the time being. I will still remain American after I move to the UK with my husband, but there is something electric in the air here today. To be an American in America on a day when someone who wasn’t even considered a human being when he was born just because of the color of his skin rise to become president of our country is overwhelming and amazing and I’m filled with pride in my country…something else I haven’t felt in recent years.

I got to the job site early and sat in the parking lot, still listening to the proceedings on NPR. I got to hear VP Biden take his oath, then got out of the car to see my deaf client waiting on me. I explained that I was sorry to be late for the appointment, but that I wanted to hear the swearing in at least before we went inside. The deaf client agreed with me and asked me to interpret what was going on via the radio. The feeling was that we weren’t going to go in until “OBAMA PRESIDENT, FINISH! WE CAN, Y-E-S!” (translated to spoken English: we weren’t going in until Obama is president, YES WE CAN!) I interpreted the oath as I heard it via NPR and my client and I high-fived…and I cried a little again.

Yes we did…and now, yes we can. YES WE CAN.


Originally uploaded by Nancy Allen

Remember my previous Steam posts, from when I was living in Alabama?

I am a professional.

I am fluent in both languages. I’m not sure that you’re even fluent in English.

I don’t need to be told how to do my job. I had to have been pretty clear about what I was doing for my college to grant me a bachelor’s degree and my professional organization to grant me national certification.

I’m fairly familiar with mental illness and working in this setting. The past 9 years of working in this setting have seen to that.

I know what I was hired to do, and I know what you were hired to do. Let’s not confuse the two, shall we?

Until you know what it is like to be a necessary evil…until you know what it is like to be a walking after-thought…until you have been spoken about in front of your face as though you are an appliance or a chair in the room…

(Here’s where my more sensitive readers might want to scroll down, by the way.)

Until you can understand sign and English and work between the two, get the hell out of my face, my business, and my way and let me do my job.


Well, this one’s going to be a bit more cryptic because I don’t really know who reads me up here in SC…but I still need to let it out or I’ll explode.

When you make a computer mistake that affects your employees, it should not be the responsibility of the employees to make it right. I understand that it makes more work for you to correct the mistake, but I’m still not seeing how it’s anyone’s issue but yours to see it fixed.

When someone is hired for a job, it is assumed that the person has the required knowledge and skills to perform the job. If you weren’t hired for that job then you probably don’t need to try and tell the person in the job how to DO the job. I’m sure that he or she can handle it.

Creating a working environment where you have happy and willing employees almost always leads to productivity. A work environment where employees feel like they are either being watched every step of the way or they have to beg and scrape for the materials needed to do their jobs will not lead to productivity or a boost in morale. I try to remember that when I’m supervising my interpreters.

I did a 9-1 stint today alone…lots of clients back to back to see a doc, but also discussion in between with deaf staff members. My hands are worn out, my brain is totally mush…yet I still have to finish out my day (till 4:30 rather than 5, though, since I left home at 8 to get to the gig on time). And we’re in a hiring freeze so it has to be justified that we need another interpreter in this area. I’ll tell you what, put on my hands and feel the pain in my joints right now, or try to string a coherent sentence together with my foggy brain for the past two hours and you’ll get your justification.

It’s funny, an interpreter I know who used to work where I do now warned me when I took the job all those years ago that “this job will be the end of you…they will work you to death there,” but I scoffed. And have been for the past almost 10 years.

Ten years. Lordy.

Once September is over I will only have two months left at my job. Sobering thought…and honestly I’m not sure if it’s because I will miss it or sobering because there are still two months left. Time will tell.