CODA Film Dominates, Wins All Three Academy Award Nominations

April 5, 2022 BY KELLY MAHONEY
Updated: May 31, 2023


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History was made at the 94th Academy Awards last week, as the film CODA scooped up all three of its Oscar nominations at the live show in Los Angeles. CODA was named Best Picture, star Troy Kotsur took home Best Supporting Actor, and writer-director Siân Heder accepted Best Adapted Screenplay. 

These wins were historic in their own rite: CODA is the first motion picture starring a predominantly Deaf cast to win an Oscar, Troy Kotsur is the first Deaf male actor to receive an Oscar (ever!), and CODA is the first film released by a streaming service to win an Academy Award. 

CODA portrays Deaf people as… people

Cartoon person making ASL hand sign for the word "interpret"

‘CODA’ stands for “child of deaf adult(s),” and the film tells Ruby Rossi’s coming-of-age story, as the only hearing member of a Deaf family living in Massachusetts. CODA premiered at Sundance Film Festival last year, where Apple bought the distribution rights and went on to make the film publicly available on their own streaming service in August.

Since then, the movie’s success snowballed into numerous nominations at the Golden Globes and BAFTAs, and picked up additional accolades at the Screen Actor’s Guild and Producer’s Guild Awards. All in all, CODA‘s Academy Awards success punctuates an incredibly successful awards season

While CODA is clearly critically acclaimed, the film has also been highly regarded by the Deaf community for its unprecedented and refreshingly authentic representation. Media depictions of d/Deaf individuals (or disabled people more broadly) too often misrepresent their lives, rely on cliche tropes, or use non-disabled actors to portray a disabled person’s experience. 

“People think that deaf people are monolithic in terms of how they approach life. And this film bursts that myth,” says Marlee Matlin, the first Deaf star to be cast in the film – who made her feelings on representation clear from the beginning: hire deaf actors to play deaf people, or I’ll walk.

 Read the blog: CODA Makes History with Deaf Representation in Film 

The critics agree: Kotsur is Best Supporting Actor 

In his acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor, Matlin’s co-star Troy Kotsur also acknowledged the importance of representation in CODA. Thanking the most formative institutions in his career, Kotsur marvels at the film’s reach. 

“It’s amazing that our film has reached out worldwide… [and] I want to thank all of the wonderful Deaf theater stages, where I was allowed and given the opportunity to develop my craft as an actor,” said Kotsur, the now-decorated film star. In addition to the Academy Award, Kotsur counts a BAFTA Award, SAG Award, Film Independent Spirit Award, and Critic’s Choice Award among his trophies in the Supporting Actor category.  

Kotsur also took the opportunity on stage to praise writer-director Siân Heder for her role in creating an authentic connection between two worlds. Clapboard and movie reel

“[Siân Heder] brought the Deaf world and the hearing world together… and [her] name will forever be on that bridge,” pronounced Kotsur. 

In Heder’s acceptance speech for Best Adapted Screenplay, she thanks her collaborators in the Deaf and CODA communities for being her teachers in bringing this film to life. 

“Writing and making this movie was truly life changing, as an artist and as a human being,” professed Heder. She admits it wasn’t an easy process, simultaneously thanking Sundance and Apple for their part in bringing the independent film to a global audience.

 Learn best practices for creating more accessible media 

CODA Academy Awards mark a moment for streaming services

While much of CODA’s recognition and awards season success has been focused on the film’s contribution to accurate, authentic representation of the Deaf community, it’s also worth considering the film’s contribution to “new media.” 

CODA is the first film distributed by a streaming service to be awarded the Oscar for Best Picture, proving that streaming platforms like Apple TV+ should be seen as serious competition for traditional media and movie production outlets. 

To maintain the film’s momentum, the producers have announced a planned partnership with Deaf West Theatre to develop a stage musical adaptation.

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