SALT LAKE CITY — Brad Pitt skewered the U.S. Senate. Joaquin Phoenix said it’s unethical to drink cow’s milk. But to some people, the most controversial speech at Sunday’s Academy Awards was the one in which a man thanked his wife of 34 years for staying home with their children.
Donald Sylvester, who won the Oscar for sound editing for his work on “Ford v Ferrari,” thanked his colleagues and then said, “The real support comes from home, so I want to thank my wonderful wife of 34 years who gave up her editing career for me to pursue my career.”
He then added, “But she raised our kids and she did a great job because neither one of them are politicians.”
While the line about politicians drew a laugh, the crowd was noticeably quieter when Sylvester said his wife gave up her editing career, and the YouTube clip of the moment shows the woman seated behind Penny Shaw Sylvester ending her applause at that moment. As Sarah Todd described the scene for Quartz, “The clapping jerked to a stop.”
Twitter users weren’t happy, either. “Brava women heroes, sacrificing careers so white men can do what they want & not raise the kids,” Ashleigh Montgomery wrote.
“If Donald Sylvester’s wife hadn’t given up her editing career for him, would she be on the Oscar stage tonight?” Adeline Ellis asked.
And Cindy Gallop wrote that Sylvester’s speech “celebrates the old old story” and said that “In the future we want lots of women onstage thanking their husbands for doing the same thing.”
As it turns out, Penny Shaw Sylvester did much more than raise the couple’s children. According to a report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, she also suggested her husband go into sound editing when he was considering a career change.
And she was unaware that her husband’s remarks were controversial until a Deseret News reporter reached out and shared some of the comments, which she called “ridiculous.”
“For anybody to criticize makes me extremely angry, because they know nothing about my life or my family and the choices we’ve had to make,” she said.
The couple, who live near Los Angeles, have two children, now ages 30 and 25, and Penny Shaw Sylvester decided to quit working full time when it became clear that one of the children had special needs and would require extra care.
“I was paying someone to take care of my special-needs child and I realized they couldn’t do it as well as I could. Nobody knows a child as well as the parents do,” she said.
In addition to caring for the couple’s children, she became active in the local school district, where she worked with special education, ran a summer-school program and is now involved with fundraising. “To say that I don’t work is absolutely ludicrous, but what I did do is leave the entertainment industry,” she said.
Penny Shaw Sylvester’s ties in the industry went beyond her own work and that of her husband. Her father was the late British actor Robert Shaw, celebrated for his work in “A Man For All Seasons” (for which he was nominated for an Oscar in 1967), among other films. Robert Shaw also played the shark-hunter Quint in “Jaws.”
Penny Shaw Sylvester said it was her decision to step away from film editing and that she doesn’t regret it, saying she is blessed to have “a very rich, fulfilled life.”
“I love what I do, I love working with the schools, and I love helping children and helping our community, which I think is so much more productive than just cutting a film.
“I live in the real world. And I help real people,” she said. She lauded her husband, who spent Monday in bed with the flu, for supporting her decision.
“My husband has been amazing. He’s been an incredible father, and so supportive of everything we’ve done. For some people, working is the correct choice; other people, life takes a turn, and you sometimes have to go with that turn.”
On Twitter, more than one person expressed hope that someone would offer Donald Sylvester’s wife an editing job. Told that, she laughed.
“Everyone has choices in life, we all find fulfillment in different ways. I’m not lacking for editing jobs, believe me,” she said.
As for what she mouthed at the camera, when it panned to her, while her husband was speaking, she said she was saying hello to her children: “Hi Peter” and “Hi Louise.”