Amongst the drama of the 2022 Academy Awards, a film about a young girl living with her Deaf family in a small fishing village in Massachusetts and discovering her own way in life snuck through the ranks of huge contenders led by some of the biggest names in Hollywood to be named Best Picture and receive the legendary gold statue.
You should absolutely watch the film if you haven’t already
CODA, which stands for Child of Deaf Adults, takes on a classic coming-of-age tale, with family clashes and attempts at defining personal identity as a young person. Based on the French film La Famille Belier (2014), this film is set in Gloucester, Massachusetts and follows Ruby Rossi as she helps her Deaf family run their family fishing business amongst changing economic environments while discovering her own dreams of becoming a singer. Without too many spoilers (because you should absolutely watch the film if you haven’t already!), we are also treated to a beautiful rendition of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now performed by the film’s lead Emilia Jones.
Hollywood is not always known for showing appreciation for simpler, character-led films within the Academy Awards, however, these films can offer a beautiful insight into corners of the world some may never experience and allow particularly enchanting performances to shine through. Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight (2016) was one such film which achieved such acclaim, winning Best Picture and receiving five other nominations in 2017. Following a young man at three different stages of life, exploring his sexuality and identity, it follows a similar path to CODA and received universal acclaim.
The success of the film has brought Deaf culture to the forefront of popular culture in the US
Aside from the beauty of the story, the success of the film has brought Deaf culture to the forefront of popular culture in the US. Marlee Matlin stars as Jackie Rossi, Ruby’s mother, and is perhaps the most well-known Deaf actor working on the big screen. She has appeared in many TV roles including Reasonable Doubts (1991-1993), Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (2004-05) and Seinfeld (1993), earning Golden Globe and Emmy recognition. In 1987, she was named Best Actress for her starring role in Children of a Lesser God (1986) and remained the only Deaf actor to earn an Academy Award until this year.
Troy Kotsur earned his place in history becoming the second Deaf actor to win an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, 35 years after Matlin’s win. Now recognised for his playful speeches, the actor has spoken candidly about his many years working and struggling financially as a stage actor, and his joy at finally being recognised for his achievements on the Hollywood stage.
Stories about Deaf culture have been gradually gaining the spotlight for many years, with documentaries such as the Deaf U series (more about this here) and short film Audible, also nominated in the 2022 Academy Awards, appearing on Netflix. These stories were led by executive producer Nyle DiMarco, a Deaf model, actor, and filmmaker. DiMarco has appeared on reality competitions America’s Next Top Model and Dancing with the Stars, becoming the first Deaf winner of both. Last year, we saw a similar story in the UK as EastEnders’ star Rose Ayling-Ellis won Strictly Come Dancing as their first Deaf competitor. These stars are continual advocates for the common use of sign language and promote awareness that Deaf individuals are exceptionally deserving of their place on the popular stage. I am certain this is not the last we will see of these actors, writers, and filmmakers, and not the last of successes for character-driven stories of love, loss, identity, and family.
CODA is available to stream on Apple TV+ now and in limited screenings in select cinemas in the US and UK.
Featured Image courtesy of Mirko Fabian via Unsplash. Image use license found here. No changes made to this image.
In-article trailer courtesy of Apple TV via youtube.com. No changes made to this video.
In-article images courtesy of troykotsur via instagram.com. No changes made to these images.
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