A profoundly deaf six-year-old British girl is heading to Hollywood – after the film she stars in was nominated for an Oscar.
Maisie Sly communicates using sign language and had never acted before.
She competed against 100 other deaf or hard-of-hearing children for the lead role in short film The Silent Child.
The plot follows Libby, a deaf child born to a hearing family who struggle to communicate with their daughter who has isolation and behavioural problems.
But the girl’s life changes forever when she is introduced to a social worker, played by Hollyoaks actress Rachel Shenton, who wrote the script.
Maisie’s acting debut was one of five nominees for Best Live Action Short Film at this year’s Oscars, it was announced today (Tues).
Maisie said: “The hardest part about making the film was doing the same thing over and over again.
“My favourite parts was swimming, milkshakes and playing with Rachel.
“It was strange watching me on a big screen.
“I would like to act with other deaf people and children.”
She said the film was an opportunity “to show deaf children can do anything.”
The brave little girl said she was “was happy and proud, not nervous” when the part was offered to her, despite having no previous experience.
Maisie auditioned for the role of Libby, after her parents spotted a Facebook post by director, Chris Overton, who was also in Hollyoaks.
The filmmakers were searching for a deaf child who communicated entirely through sign language – and Maisie fitted the bill.
She hopes the 20-minute short film will be an opportunity to show that deaf children can do anything.
Maisie’s two siblings, Chloe, aged three, and Jack, seven, are both deaf, as is her mother Elizabeth.
Her father Gilson, 33, is also hearing impaired, and her parents hope the film will raise awareness of the struggles face by deaf children in mainstream education.
Gilson said: “Watching the film was incredibly emotional, we both feel so proud of Maisie and how she has taken it all in her stride, and stayed the same person.
“Maisie was pretty cool about the nomination, it’s her natural way.
“I’m not too sure there many six year old girls that fully understand the magnitude of Oscars.”
During the film, the audience are told the shocking statistic that 78 per cent of school-aged deaf children attend mainstream schools without receiving any specialist provision – something which the family have experienced first hand.
The dad-of-three added: “We as a family had to move from Saltash to Swindon so that our deaf children can get the right support and provisions they need in education.
“So as a family we have first hand experience of this.
“It was important to us that our children go to a school that had the support we wanted from them already there.”
Maisie’s classmates at the mainstream primary school got a sneak preview of the screen in August, when Rachel organised a surprise screening at Red Oaks Primary in Swindon, Wilts.
“It wasn’t it had to be mainstream school it was which school provided what we needed best,” Gilson added.
“All three of our children attend Red Oaks Primary School.”
Although he heaped praise on the primary school, Gilson said more needed to be done in the wider education system to accommodate deaf children so they do not become isolated, like the character Libby in the film.
“Maisie learnt BSL from birth, it’s her naturally acquired first language,” he said.
“There definitely should be more provision for it on the curriculum, one of the common issues a deaf person might have is isolation.
“If we taught BSL or a least had it as an option, there would be a greater awareness and understanding.”
He hopes the film will encourage a greater awareness of deafness in mainstream education – and even encourage BSL to be put on the National Curriculum.
Gilson said: “Deafness is not a learning disability, therefore with the right support a deaf child can achieve exactly what a hearing child can.”
The Silent Child has already inspired another little girl with deafness to take up acting – although it has not yet hit the big screen.
“Jack and Chloe are proud of Maisie,” Gilson said.
“Chloe is definitely wanting to follow her footsteps, taking every opportunity to try and get on camera or on stage. It’s a journey that we are sharing as a family.
“If acting is what they wish to do then who am I to stop them achieving their dreams.”
Maisie has already been to America once, to the Rhode Island International Film Festival, where the film won the Best Live Action Short award.
But she hopes to make another trip with her mother, along with Rachel and her boyfriend Chris, to collect the coveted Oscar gong.
Maisie said: “I’m really excited, I hope I can go America again.”
Her dad added: “What we are most proud of? It’s the fact that Maisie is supporting and leading the change that is much needed with deaf awareness and British Sign Language.”
The other films nominated for Best Live-Action Short category were Dekalb Elementary, The 11 O’Clock, My Nephew Emmett, and All Of Us.