Heartwarming drama “CODA” wins Best Picture, depicts Deaf community

Illustration by Alex Nash

Sian Heder’s family drama “CODA’’ took home the Oscar for Best Picture this Sunday at the 94th annual Academy Awards. Largely overshadowed in the popular press by the (admittedly exciting and unexpected) events that transpired between Will Smith and Chris Rock, the film’s Best Picture win is a historic achievement.

Not only does Apple TV+ now get the honor of being the first streaming service with rights to a Best Picture winner, but the Deaf community got to see people who look like them on the biggest stage in the world.

CODA, which stands for “Child of Deaf Adults,” is the heartwarming, funny, bittersweet tale of Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones), the only hearing person in her family. Ruby gets caught between being there for her parents and brother, who need her as their rock and interpreter, and pursuing her own dreams of going to college for music.

Troy Kotsur took home the Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for his performance as Frank Rossi, Ruby’s father. Kotsur became only the second Deaf actor ever to win an Oscar in any category, after Marlee Matlin – who plays Kotsur’s wife in “CODA” – became the first in 1986 for her role as Sarah in Randa Haines’ “Children of a Lesser God.”

Kotsur handed his statuette back to Youn Yuh-jung, who had presented him with the award, in order to deliver a moving acceptance speech entirely in American Sign Language (ASL).

“I just want to say that this is dedicated to the Deaf community, the ‘CODA’ community and the disabled community,” Kotsur said, interpreted by a translator. “This is our moment.”

Completing the film’s sweep of the three categories for which it was nominated, writer and Director Sian Heder took home the award for Best Adapted Screenplay. “CODA” was adapted from Éric Lartigau’s 2014 French film “La famille Bélier,” and only exists because Philippe Rousselet was a producer on both projects and retained remake rights. Though “CODA” was originally intended as simply an English-language copy of the French film, Heder made some important changes when adapting the script. Most obviously, “CODA” takes place in Massachusetts where the Rossi family are fishermen, while the Bélier family are dairy farmers in rural France.

Other small changes like this permeate the film, but the most striking and risky move Heder made was in casting. In the original film, only Luca Gelberg (the Brother character, played by Daniel Durant in “CODA”) is actually Deaf, while Paula (Louane Emera)’s parents are played by hearing actors. Heder committed to the script and her vision by casting three Deaf actors to play Ruby’s family, and in the process immersed herself in both Deaf culture and ASL.

“I don’t think I’d ever met a director who was so invested in her work, as well as in learning about the Deaf community,” Matlin said in an interview with Variety.

Another huge accolade for the film is the fact that while Apple TV+ distributed the film, it was originally produced by independent production company Vendôme Pictures with a modest budget of $10 million. Vendôme Pictures is owned by Rousselet, and has produced only 8 movies in its 11-year history, including “La famille Bélier.”

After its premiere at the fully virtual January 2021 Sundance Film Festival, “CODA” only continued to pick up steam. After Apple TV+ acquired the film for a record-breaking $25 million in August 2021, the snowball of success became astronomical.

All told, “CODA” received 133 nominations and 59 awards, including two BAFTAs, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, four Sundance Film Festival Awards including the Grand Jury Prize, the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Independent Motion Picture, three Hollywood Critics Association Awards and the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. “CODA” is an incredible story of family, of perseverance, of duty, of heartbreak, but most importantly of love. It has reached millions of people worldwide, and given a voice to a historically underrepresented community. If you have access to Apple TV+ or can still find it in theaters, it is absolutely worth the watch.

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About Aidan D'Anna 27 Articles
Aidan was a contributor for the Pioneer Log in his first semester at Lewis and Clark and became a features editor for his second semester. He is also a member of the Ultimate Frisbee team, Model United Nations, and Psych club. As a features editor, he hopes to direct students’ attention to events, people, and interesting details about the community they share. He also hopes to inspire fellow students to write for the Pioneer Log and contribute to its supportive journalistic environment. Aidan is a Psychology major and English minor. In his free time, he enjoys reading, writing poetry, playing the piano, and all things comedy.

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