Life in Lockdown and Beyond
Like many industries, the performing arts space has been profoundly impacted by COVID-19 over the last year. But Vilma never shies away from a challenge. “I always try to face adversity with positivity,” she says. “The various lockdowns really allowed me to concentrate on my own work, refine my creative process, and provide clarity to my aspirations. I have been a performing artist for a long time and worked on many brilliant projects, but my desire to write, perform, and direct my own work under the umbrella of my own production company has been burning inside me for a long time.”
She created Vilma Jackson Productions, and the Arts Council commissioned her first project. Triple Oppression is a short story using British Sign Language poetry to convey her struggles, aspirations, and successes growing up as a Black, Deaf woman. Triple Oppression was critically acclaimed and won four awards including a Los Angeles Film Award, a New York Film Award, a FilmCon Award, and a Festigious International Film Festival award.
Vilma says she does not have a specific post-COVID plan. “Life is fluid and so plans should be fluid also,” she says. “Life throws so many obstacles in our way and the pandemic is certainly an obstacle, but opportunity is out there for all of us.” She believes that opportunity isn’t something that falls into our laps. She had to work hard for her success, and cope with the rejections that are a way of life in the creative industries.
“ Life is never an easy journey, especially in these times,” she adds. “There isn’t a right or wrong way to overcome it, but I learned to be resilient and to pave my way as I go. There is a famous poem by Juan Manuel Serrat that says, Traveller, there is no path. You make the path by walking it.”
Both Triple Oppression and The Vilma Jackson Show explore the intersection of barriers Vilma has faced as a Black, Deaf woman.
“If you are Deaf, you face many barriers, and some of those are not because I am Deaf but because society imposes barriers upon me,” she explains. “Being Black and being a Woman also adds to these barriers in an unpleasant way. Unfortunately, discrimination is part of life and everyone has to deal with it one way or another. I am always aware of it in the back of my mind but try to keep a positive attitude and keep moving. Being happy is the best revenge, as they say!”
She believes it is essential to embrace and celebrate our differences if we are to move towards a more equitable society. “There is a beautiful message which says, God made us different so we could get to know one another better,” she says. “What a boring world it would be if everyone was the same!”
According to a 2019 report, 94% of British people do not know more than two words in British Sign Language (BSL.) But, Vilma says, “sign language is a rich, very expressive, and beautiful language which combines signs, body language, and facial expression. Hearing people are really missing out by not understanding and appreciating its nuance and complexity.” Regional accents exist within sign language, and each country has its own version that has developed over centuries. Vilma is fluent in BSL and also speaks Portugese, and says that knowing both has helped her understand the differences between Portugese and British culture.
I asked Vilma about her proudest achievement to date. “I was extremely proud to play a part in a fabulous project called Sign Night,” she says. “The fact that this project won the Best International Experimental Short at the Venice Shorts in California brought me great professional pride. But honestly, I cannot choose one highlight of my career,” she concludes. Understandable when she’s created so much incredible art and worked on so many important projects.
Vilma believes that each project, both the successes and the failures, have led her to where she is today. “To me, they all have a place in my heart.”
Advice and Top Tips
We asked Vilma about the advice she’d give to young people, particularly Deaf young people, looking to get into the creative industries or work for themselves.
“Work hard, learn from those around you ,and most importantly, be resilient,” she says. “It doesn’t matter who you are, you will face rejection, failure, and barriers. Learn to embrace them and use them to fuel your desire.
It doesn’t matter what industry you are in, I guarantee you there is an opportunity to use your skillset. It may not be exactly as you planned and the opportunity may not present itself immediately but with diligence, patience and perseverance you will find it.”
“Success is not money or possessions,” she adds. “It is something that you have to define for yourself, and no one can do it for you. Success could mean a sense of giving back to the world and making a difference. You can inspire children or adults to accomplish their goals regardless of their race, disability, or gender. At the end of the day, success is a feeling. It is the satisfaction of accomplishment that you did a good job, worked with good people, and produced a beautiful work of art.”
Vilma believes that positive role models are incredibly important and hopes that her story will inspire people. “I hope people find the fire inside themselves and don’t allow society to stop them achieving,” she says. “I want people to be fierce, in a positive way. I wish to be a role model for future generations so they can believe in themselves.”
Where to Find Vilma and Her Work
You can find Vilma and her work on all the main social media platforms:
Vilma hopes that her work will find a broad audience. “Obviously, I would like the Deaf community to watch, share and debate the show,” she says of The Vilma Jackson Show. “But I really want my work to cross over to a mainstream audience. Society will only change if everyone is aware of the issues and how they affect real people. By raising awareness, we can create empathy. Only with empathy will we change society for the better.”
We’ll leave you with this piece of Vilma’s wisdom: “Never give up on your dreams, never let anyone say you can’t.”