The film, which earned only three nominations heading into the 94th annual ceremony, now stands as the first motion picture to feature a predominantly deaf cast in leading roles and the only film from a streaming service to take home the top honor at the awards show.
Netflix’s tense Western drama “The Power of the Dog” from director Jane Campion was long expected to win the Best Picture trophy, as it led this year’s pack of nominees with a staggering 12 nods. But “CODA” has emerged as a dark horse in recent weeks, building a steady momentum after picking up key precursor honors at the Producers Guild Awards, Screen Actors Guild Awards and Writers Guild Awards and turning the most competitive awards season trophy into a neck-and-neck race.
“CODA,” the English-language remake of the 2014 French film “La Famille Bélier,” also managed to beat out competitors “Belfast,” “Don’t Look Up,” “Dune,” “King Richard,” “Licorice Pizza,” “Nightmare Alley” and the category’s sole international contender, Japan’s “Drive My Car,” for Best Picture.
Earlier in the broadcast, “CODA” saw wins in the Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor fields. Troy Kotsur, who delivers a stirring performance in the film as the family’s patriarch, became the first deaf man and second deaf performer to ever win an acting Oscar. His co-star Marlee Matlin became the first in 1987.
“CODA” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2021, where it received top honors, including the Grand Jury Prize. Apple acquired the film for a record-shattering $25 million, and the movie hit the company’s streaming service the following August.
The film tells the story of Ruby (Jones), a CODA (which stands for “child of deaf adults”) who acts as an interpreter for her family — mother Jackie (Matlin), father Frank (Kotsur) and brother Leo (Durant) — while also pursuing her own dreams of becoming a singer.
Director Sian Heder ran up against resistance from studios and financiers who pushed for hearing actors to portray the remaining deaf family members after Matlin came on board. But Matlin put her foot down, saying it was important to tell the story “as authentically as possible” to bring the Deaf community some long-awaited and positive onscreen representation.
“I felt that audiences would really see deaf people in a film,” she told the Los Angeles Times about the feature’s long journey to the big screen. “There are so many levels for people to identify with and, for people with no connection, who have never met a deaf person, to see sign language, to see deaf people in normal, day-to-day settings.”
“People think that deaf people are monolithic in terms of how they approach life,” she added. “And this film bursts that myth.”
Apart from its awards show accolades, “CODA” has made quite the impact on viewers and the industry at large. Earlier this week, the cast visited President Joe Biden and discussed issues facing deaf Americans, including access to employment, with the White House Domestic Policy Council and Office of Public Engagement.
A stage musical adaptation of the film is also in the works from the acclaimed Tony-winning Deaf West Theatre.