That’s the formula that helped Matlin, deaf since she was 18 months old, overcome barriers and win the Best Actress Oscar at age 21 for her 1986 debut feature film turn in “Children of a Lesser God.”
“Though I work in a field that couldn’t be more different than what you all are working in, as women, we share a common goal,” Matlin said at the Women of the Channel Leadership Summit West in Palm Springs, Calif. “It’s the desire, actually the right, to stand equally with our male peers … apply skills learned, realizing our full potential and achieving success.”
I, too, in my journey came with the same questions that you are being asked today,” said Matlin, whose words, conveyed using American Sign Language, were given voice by Jack Jason, her interpreter of 33 years. “How do I choose the right path and figure out who I’m supposed to be? What are the best tools to get there? And, most importantly, how can I ensure that I will get all the answers? And that’s why I’m so glad to have the opportunity to be here today to learn, to share, to inspire and, best of all, to motivate each other.”
Thirty-two years ago in January, Matlin said she was asking those same questions when she checked herself into the Betty Ford Center for drug addiction treatment in nearby Rancho Mirage, the day after she won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in “Children of a Lesser God” and on the eve of her Academy Award nomination.
“What is important is that my journey could not have been possible without three very simple words, which I carry around with me every day: They are courage, dreams and success,” Matlin said.
Matlin And Courage
Without the courage that she learned from her parents, teachers and mentors, Matlin said she would not have realized success when no one thought it was possible because she’s deaf.
Matlin’s parents set her on that path, insisting she attend school in their neighborhood at a time when “mainstreaming” deaf or disabled children into regular classrooms was not yet mandated by federal law.
“It was courage,” Matlin said. “Every day, my parents opened the front door and encouraged me to explore. It was about me, not my deafness. They gave me freedoms like any child who could hear. They allowed me to roam around the neighborhood on my own, walk to stores by myself, even make friends with kids in the neighborhood without their constant worry or intervention. Granted, I was different. And yes, kids could be bullies or insensitive. But to them, that was just a part of growing up, giving me the tools to stand up for myself.”
Her family worked so hard to make sure her life was no different than other kids’ that a reporter many years later noted Matlin’s childhood must have been like living with the Brady Bunch.
“And he was right, because with that Matlin courage and that positive attitude, I was encouraged to be whoever I wanted to be,” Matlin said. “I imagined myself as the most positive role model I knew at the time: Marcia Brady. Marcia Brady who just happened to be deaf with long luxurious hair, skating down the street, saying ‘hi’ to everyone in the neighborhood, whether they knew me or not.”