A sea of raucous clapping—and silent, yet enthusiastic sign language applause—rushed through the crowd as the movie "CODA" made multiple wins during the Oscars. That included Best Adapted Screenplay (Sian Heder), Best Supporting Actor (Troy Kotsur) and Best Picture.
You could say that "CODA" was, to all intents and purposes, a sweet and simple family drama. Not Oscar bait.
It’s a story about children of deaf adults, hence the name, and it follows a hearing teenager with a love of music who works with her deaf parents and brother at a fishing harbor. Besides former Oscar winner Marlee Matlin (who won in 1987 for her role in "Children of a Lesser God"), "CODA" had zero “big names.” It also only had a $10 million budget, and was released on a streaming service.
But still, it swept. It’s history-making victories like these that reflect what the Oscars essentially are at its very best—a celebration of art that truly moves us. And the biggest win of the night rightly went to the deaf community.
Following in the footsteps of his co-star Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur became the first deaf male actor to win an Oscar.
During his acceptance speech, Kotsur thanked all the “wonderful deaf theater stages where [he] was allowed and given the opportunity to develop [his] craft as an actor.” He also shared a touching story about his “hero” dad, who became the best signer in his family until a car accident paralyzed him from the neck down.
And to the "CODA" and disabled community, his message was simple: “This is our time.”
(Also a special nod to the American Sign Language interpreter, who clearly got choked up but kept going.)
Sian Heder praises ASL as a “beautiful cinematic language.”
As Heder accepted her award for Best Adapted Screenplay, she called the experience “truly life-changing as an artist and a human being” and thanked the deaf community for being her collaborators and teachers.In a previous interview with Movie Maker, Heder commented that “so often disability is portrayed in such a precious, earnest way where characters that are deaf or have a disability are portrayed as being either incredibly noble, or objects of pity. And in fact, you know, the only difference with a deaf person is that they can’t hear.” So the ultimate goal was to depict an honest, authentic version of deaf families. Bawdiness and all.
"CODA" winning best picture shows that recognition can be healing.
"CODA" not only shines a light on deaf culture. It celebrates it. And its success most likely will pave the way for other films that give continued visibility to the disabled community. Just look at what "Parasite"’s Best Picture win did. After that, Korean cinema blew up, particularly on streaming platforms (looking at you, "Squid Game"). We have already seen inklings of this trend with inclusion of deaf characters into mainstream movies like Marvel's "Eternals" and the movie “Sound of Metal,” which stars a deaf lead. But this kind of widespread global acclaim takes it a step further.
The Oscars might have been a whirlwind of less-than-classy headlines this year, but that doesn’t take away from the positive force for good that is "CODA"’s awards. May all walks of life find their time in the spotlight.
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