Why Coda Should Win the Oscar for Best Picture | Oscars 2022

IIs Hollywood finally changing? In 1987, Marlee Matlin made history by becoming the first (and still the only) deaf actress to win an Oscar and Best Actress for Children of a Lesser God. This year Matlin is not nominated, but her film Coda is nominated for three awards: Best Picture; Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor for her co-star and on-screen husband, deaf actor Troy Kotsur (he’s the leading contender after shitting his Bafta on Sunday).

On paper coda doesn’t look like a game changer. It’s a coming-of-age indie with a familiar feel about 17-year-old high school graduate Ruby (played by British newcomer Emilia Jones), a talented singer from a close-knit family. Ruby is a tower between dreams of a music scholarship and staying in Massachusetts to work on her family’s fishing boat. The title is an acronym for “child of deaf adult,” and Ruby is the only hearing member of her family; Her parents (played by Matlin and Kotsur) and her brother are deaf.

Coda premiered to a standing ovation at Sundance last year and sparked a bidding war that ended with Apple paying a record $25 million. After that, the seeds are running out of steam (blame the pandemic), due out in August 2021 on Apple TV+ and limited theaters.

Sign Of The Times… Troy Kotsur Wins Best Supporting Actor For Coda At The 2022 Baftas. Photo: Joe Maher/Getty Images

But for the past few weeks, pundits have been speculating about his chances as a shock Best Picture winner – a potential spoiler for Pip leaders The power of the dog. The comeback began when Coda bagged the grand prize at the Screen Actors Guild Awards for Outstanding Performance by a Cast.

Still, as best visuals, Coda is a bit snippy: feeling like it’s too obvious a crowd pleaser, machined to leave the viewer with a warm, squishy feeling. I understand the resistance. The film doesn’t delve too deeply into its characters. You’ll recognize Ruby’s awkward hippie parents from a dozen indies bygone: Jackie (Matlin) and Frank (Kotsur) smoking Doobies and having loud afternoon sex while she’s in the bedroom next door. Her high school singing teacher is a cartoonish Mr. V (Eugenio Derbez), a typical, inspirational disciplinarian who demands the highest standards from his students.

So yes, it hits familiar beats. But Coda is a milestone in deaf culture and representation on the big screen. Screenwriter-director Sian Heder (who hears) adapted the screenplay from the 2014 French film La Famille Bélier, which controversially cast hearing actors. In Coda, the deaf characters are played by deaf actors – that’s three out of four lead roles.

When I interviewed Matlin last year, she told me that when a financier asked for a well-known hearing actor to play her husband on screen, she threatened to be fired. So the role went to veteran deaf actor Kotsur. The scene in which they tell a government fisheries official where to put it in expletive-filled American Sign Language (ASL) alone justifies the victory that awaits him. (The captions don’t do his mark justice: make his hand a testicle that turns into a grenade, then pull the pin).

And it’s not just the turning point that makes Coda the best picture. There are moments in it that really shaped me. In an emotional scene, Ruby asks Jackie, “Do you ever wish I was deaf?” Jackie sighs and tells Ruby how the doctors gave her a hearing test when she was a little baby in the hospital. “I prayed you would be deaf,” Jackie says, admitting she was worried she wouldn’t connect with her hearing daughter. In another scene, Mr. V. asks Ruby how she feels when she sings. She shrugs inarticulate teenage shoulders, thinks about it, then responds in her native language, ASL. It is wonderful.

Half of the dialog is in ASL. In addition to casting deaf actors, Heder hired two artistic sign language directors to collaborate on the script, Alexandria Wailes and Anne Tomasetti. There were sign language consultants on set who made sure the actors’ sign language stayed on track. One of them said that in a deaf home, the sofa would be in front of the front door, so the living room was rearranged.

Can Coda really win Best Picture? The award-winning geeks who take the Oscars as seriously as they do a presidential race aren’t thinking. The statistics speak against it. But it would be a popular choice. And the acceptance speech would be a cork. Here’s a taste of what to expect from Matlin’s acceptance at the SAG Awards: “This validates the fact that we, deaf actors, can work just like everyone else. We look forward to more opportunities for deaf actors,” she said before teaching the audience ASL for “I Love You.” In the past, Hollywood has rewarded able-bodied actors with love awards for showing compassionate portrayals of disabilities. A win for Coda would show that films can reflect our changing world.

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