Star Troy Kotsur also took home Best Supporting Actor, while the film was additionally nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. “CODA”‘s Best Picture win concludes the film’s record-breaking run after making history as the biggest Sundance acquisition ever, courtesy of Apple, which picked it up for $25 million.
Directed by Sian Heder, “CODA” tells the story of 17-year-old Ruby (Emilia Jones) who is trying to launch her singing career as the only hearing member of a deaf family. CODA stands for a Child of Deaf Adults. While Ruby’s life is centered on being an interpreter for her parents, played by Marlee Matlin and Kotsur, plus working on their fishing boat with her brother (Daniel Durant), she dreams of attending a prestigious music school.
“CODA” previously won the Directing Award, the Ensemble Award, and the Grand Jury Prize, as well as the Audience Award at 2021 Sundance. The film went on to win Best Ensemble at SAG, with Kotsur also taking home Best Supporting Actor titles at the BAFTAs, Critics Choice Awards, Film Independent Spirit Awards, and Gotham Awards.
“CODA” director Heder previously told IndieWire that she didn’t set out to make a “crowdpleaser” film. “You want to make something esoteric and weird that impresses critics and no one else. I set out to make a commercial movie because what was new about the movie is we were seeing a family that we have not seen on screen before in this way,” Heder said. “It’s culturally specific. It’s a culture that has been ignored and isolated and blocked off from access. To make an indie film for people to go see and talk about that was never going to reach the middle of the country? I hope that people are going to be exposed to deaf culture through this film, and exposed to ASL [American Sign Language] who might never have seen a scene before where a deaf family is sitting around a dinner table giving each other shit.”
Heder called the success of “CODA” an “extended experience” thanks to the festival premiere and subsequent Apple TV+ rollout.
“When you’re at a screening, you feel the audience reaction in real time in the moment you feel when they laugh, you feel them sniffle if they start to cry, and it’s an immediate experience,” Heder continued. “With this, it’s been the slow trickle where, when I speak to somebody new, they tell me their experience watching the movie, and walk me through the scenes that they reacted to.”
Heder added, “I would love as many people as possible to see this film. Apple does have reach and the resources that they’ve put behind this movie have been impressive. I’ve done this before with my first film, and I’ve been blown away by what Apple has done and the way that they are not only supporting the movie but also things around the movie, whether they are featurettes, or other materials, or that get the word out and get the world interested in learning about deaf culture and learning about ASL and shining a light on a community that has been largely ignored.”
The Best Picture win will no doubt fuel new interest in the film, as writer-director Heder celebrates the huge victory for it and for ASL representation onscreen. The film is currently streaming on Apple TV+.
“CODA” won over IndieWire’s Kate Erbland early on as she reviewed the film out of 2021 Sundance. “What ‘CODA’ lacks in storytelling originality, it more than makes up for with other touches of ingenuity,” Erbland wrote. “Chief among them is that it’s a film that focuses on a deaf family and treats their woes as being just as worthy — and relatable — as innumerable other stories that, at least, initially feel just like it.”
Erbland wrote, “As Heder’s film evolves and leans further into the patterns of the genre, that seeming familiarity becomes one of its greatest assets. You may think you know this story, and you probably do. But you’ve never quite seen it like this, with these characters, and with this care paid to an underrepresented portion of the population. In fitting so neatly inside expectations, Heder makes a sterling argument for more films like it — which is to say, movies that focus on under-served characters and performers (all of Heder’s deaf characters are played by deaf actors, the film is subtitled) that still contain massive appeal for everyone. It’s a crowd-pleaser that works its formula well, even as it breaks new ground…It may look recognizable, but Heder and her formidable cast and compelling emotion make sure it doesn’t sound like anything else out there.”