Are you listening, Hollywood? The actors behind “CODA,” Apple TV+’s coming-of-age drama about a hearing teenage child of deaf parents, have a message for you: “Deaf actors can work just like anybody else.”
The film, helmed by writer-director Sian Heder, triumphed at the 28th annual Screen Actors Guild Awards, taking home the Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture prize and marking a watershed moment for disability representation within the entertainment industry.
Accepting the award onstage on Sunday night from the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, California, Marlee Matlin — who made history as the first deaf performer to win an Academy Award over three decades ago — addressed the deeper meaning behind the win.
“Look, you are all our peers. We deaf actors have come a long way,” a stunned Matlin signed in her acceptance speech, which was spoken by her interpreter offstage. “Thirty-five years I have been seeing so much work out there, and all this time, I’ve watched all of your films and I pay the deepest respect to all of you.”
“This validates the fact that we, deaf actors, can work just like anybody else,” she continued, as co-stars Eugenio Derbez, Daniel Durant, Troy Kotsur and Emilia Jones watched on. “We look forward to more opportunities for deaf actors, deaf culture.”
She closed the speech by teaching the audience the American Sign Language symbol for “I love you.”
“CODA” beat out “Belfast,” “Don’t Look Up,” “House of Gucci” and “King Richard” for the prize.
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, including mother Jackie (Matlin), father Frank (Kotsur) and brother Leo (Durant), while also grappling with her own identity in her pursuit to become a singer.
After premiering at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, where it picked up the Grand Jury Prize, in addition to the Audience Award, Directing Award and U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Best Ensemble, Apple landed the worldwide distribution rights for a record-shattering $25 million.
Earlier in the evening, Kotsur made history as the first deaf actor ever to receive an individual SAG Award for his supporting performance in the film.
The dual SAG wins on Sunday night only boost the film’s chances for Oscars glory ahead of the Academy Awards next month, where it will compete for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Kotsur is now also the front-runner to take home the trophy for Best Supporting Actor.