Troy Kotsur Wins Best Supporting Actor, Second Deaf Performer in History to Receive Acting Oscar

"CODA" supporting star Troy Kotsur makes history as the second deaf performer to win an Oscar, following co-star Marlee Matlin.
CODA, Troy Kotsur, 2021. © Apple TV+ / Courtesy Everett Collection
©Apple TV/Courtesy Everett Collection

Troy Kotsur has concluded his awards season run by nabbing the most coveted title of all: an Academy Award.

The “CODA” star made history as the second deaf performer and first deaf male actor to win an acting Oscar. “CODA” co-star Marlee Matlin holds the title as the first deaf Oscar recipient.

Kotsur won Best Supporting Actor for his turn as a deaf father to a teen daughter (Emilia Jones) who is trying to launch her singing career. To note, CODA stands for a Child of Deaf Adults. While Ruby’s life is centered on being an interpreter for her parents, played by Matlin and Kotsur, plus working on their fishing boat with her brother (Daniel Durant), she dreams of attending a prestigious music school.

Directed by Sian Heder, “CODA” was also nominated for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. The independent film previously broke records as the biggest Sundance acquisition ever, courtesy of Apple, which picked it up for $25 million. Kotsur has won a BAFTA, Critics Choice Award, Film Independent Spirit Award, Gotham Award, and SAG Award for his turn in the film. “CODA” also took home Best Ensemble Cast at the SAG Awards.

“I just feel so honored to be recognized, because I am a member,” Kotsur previously told IndieWire. “And it’s a blessing because there are so many talented actors out there that I’ve been able to share these nominations and celebrate with.”

Forging his career as a deaf actor led Kotsur to be called a “risk taker” and warned by his father that it would be “impossible to be a deaf actor” in Hollywood.

“I remained stubborn. I continued with my aspiration as an actor, because I had a strong gut feeling that something would come, I didn’t know when. And it didn’t matter, the timeline. But I have to admit that it was an extremely tough journey,” Kotsur said. “I realized that my father was proud to see me and have these small successes, but it’s a shame that he’s passed away, and he didn’t have the opportunity to see ‘CODA’ getting nominated for these awards. And I do wish he was here to see it now — ‘Hey, Dad, don’t call me a risk taker anymore.'”

IndieWire’s Kate Erbland described “CODA” as an updated take on a classic family drama, one that let Kotsur’s performance shine as a father struggling with seeing his daughter grow up.

“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,” Erbland wrote in her review. “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.”

“CODA” director Heder praised Kotsur’s inherent humor onscreen in an exclusive interview with IndieWire.

“Troy was funny in moments where I didn’t want him to be funny. And Marlee’s going, ‘This is a serious scene and he’s making me laugh,'” Heder said. “It was great to find that humor because in all these representations of characters with disability, it’s often treated with such earnestness, with the characters so noble and untouchable or an object of pity [instead of] presenting characters that are human and flawed and have moments of narcissism or being totally over the line and inappropriate.”

The director added, “I hope that the movie does the work, in theaters and streaming. We’re in every major city in theaters; this is a movie that earns a communal experience. We did a screening in Gloucester [and] I’d never seen the movie with an audience. My husband was sitting next to me. He was like, ‘You look like a kid, the delight on your face, hearing the laughs and knowing that you made a funny movie.’ That’s what I want to know, that the funny scenes were funny, and that was delightful to sit in a room full of people and have that human experience of sharing a good story together. I hope people go to the theater and see it.”

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