Historic Academy Awards for the Movie CODA and its Cast and Crew

Historic Academy Awards for the Movie CODA and its Cast and Crew

By Julie Paes and Brenda Cartwright
Monday, April 18, 2022

Historic Wins

The 94th Academy Award presentations were held on Sunday, March 27, 2022, and shining brilliantly through the spectacle were historic victories for the movie CODA and its cast made up of predominantly deaf actors. CODA was nominated in three categories, and took home the awards for all three – Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay. 

  • Best Picture: CODA, Producers: Philippe Rousselet, Fabrice Gianfermi and Patrick Wachsberger
  • Best Supporting Actor: Troy Kotsur, CODA
  • Best Adapted Screenplay: CODA, Screenplay by Siân Heder

Award for Best Picture

CODA won the Best Picture award, a win that was a first for a "streaming service" film, since CODA was originally released only on Apple TV+ and not in theaters. This was a historic win for Apple, not only because they are the first streaming service to win this prestigious award, but also because Apple paid about $25 million for the exclusive, worldwide distribution rights for CODA after it was screened at the Sundance Film Festival. The $25 million deal was the highest amount paid for any Sundance film. The risk definitely paid off.

It was also a historic win for deaf people. Deaf actors held several of the leading roles, the storyline centered on a deaf family, and about a third of the dialogue was delivered in American Sign Language (ASL). CODA is the title of the movie, but it is also an acronym for Child Of Deaf Adult(s), and the CODA movie gives the viewer a small glimpse into Deaf culture through the perspective of the movie’s CODA, hearing daughter.

You can find the movie on Apple TV+, however, Apple has also released CODA in theaters to make it accessible to more people. CODA is shown in theaters with open captions to be fully accessible to the deaf and hard of hearing. Open captions are captions viewable to all viewers without having to turn them on. Don’t wait if you want to see it because like all movies, it will only be in theaters for a limited time. Check your local theater for show times.

Award for Best Supporting Actor 

The award for Best Supporting Actor went to CODA’s Troy Kotsur who made history as the first deaf male actor to win an Oscar. Kotsur gave a moving speech delivered in ASL as he accepted the award. Dedicating his award to the Deaf community, the CODA community, and the disabled community, Kotsur said, "This is our moment." Troy Kotsur received several other honors by other nominating organizations such as the Screen Actors Guild and the Critics’ Choice Awards for his role in CODA. He is the second deaf actor to win an Academy Award, following in the footsteps of his CODA co-star, Marlee Matlin, who was the first deaf Oscar winner for Best Actress in 1987 for Children of a Lesser God.

As a seasoned actor, especially on the stage with The National Theatre of the Deaf, and Deaf West Theatre, Troy Kotsur had worked and wished for good acting roles on screen. Due to the lack of opportunities for deaf actors in Hollywood, he almost gave up on acting as a career, just before landing his role in CODA.

Award for Screenplay and Scrappiness!

CODA’s writer-director, Siân Heder took home her first ever Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Heder, a Massachusetts-born filmmaker, was approached by producer, Philippe Rousselet, about adapting a 2014 French film, La Famille Bélier, into a film for the US audience. That film would become CODA. The journey from development to Oscar winning film was far from easy. Heder first cast deaf actor, Marlee Matlin in a leading role. With Matlin on board, the casting search continued. However, the studio that had originally agreed to finance the film wanted big-name actors in the cast. Besides Marlee Matlin, deaf actors had not been given the chance or the roles to become Hollywood stars, and Heder and Matlin refused to hire hearing actors for the deaf roles. Production was halted for months.

Heder explained in an interview with the BBC, "Deafness is not a costume you can put on. And there are so many aspects to that culture and experience you can't play, unless you've lived it."

The team finally secured independent financing, and Heder was able to hire the actors she really wanted. She cast Troy Kotsur (who had previously appeared in Scrubs and CSI) as Matlin’s on-screen partner. Heder’s tenacity paid off and helped pave the way for recognition and inclusivity of deaf and hard-of-hearing actors. 

Heder started learning ASL to be able to communicate most effectively with her cast. In Troy Kotsur’s acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor, he pointedly thanked and complimented Siân Heder for her skilled and effective communication, calling her "the best communicator" and saying, "you brought the deaf world and the hearing world together, and you are our bridge."

Applause in Moving Form

With the announcements in the Dolby Theatre of the CODA award winners, the audience stood to wave their hands, giving the American Sign Language version of applause. The moving sea of respect and appreciation for the artistry of the movie, the actors, writers, directors, and producers, were shining moments in the Academy Awards program.

Keep Rolling…

Other recent films that have featured deaf characters are:  

  • Audible (2021) – Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary (Short Subject). Audible follows the moving story of a Deaf football player and his teammates at Maryland School for the Deaf as they face adversity on and off the field. You can find the movie on Netflix.
  • Eternals (2021) – The 26th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Eternals introduces Marvel’s first Deaf superhero, Makkari. Makkari was played by Deaf actress Lauren Ridloff. You can find the movie streaming on Disney+.
  • A Quiet Place, Part 1 (2018) and Part 2 (2020) – A post-apocalyptic horror film where a family must be quiet so blind monsters with an acute sense of hearing cannot hunt them. ASL is a central theme of the movie and is portrayed as an asset for survival. Deaf actress Millicent Simmonds plays Regan, the deaf daughter. You can find the movie where you rent movies.
  • Sound of Metal (2019) – Nominated for six Academy Awards for 2021, and won in two categories: Best Sound, and Best Achievement in Film Editing. The other nominated categories were: Best Picture, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (Riz Ahmed), Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (Paul Raci), and Best Original Screenplay. Sound of Metal is a highly acclaimed film about a drummer who quickly begins to lose his hearing. The leads are hearing actors. Some minor characters were played by Deaf actors (Lauren Ridloff, Chelsea Lee, Shaheem Sanchez, Jeremy Lee Stone, and some extras). You can find the movie streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

The Future is Bright

With CODA’s breakthrough Academy Award wins, a very bright light is shining on Troy Kotsur, bringing his and his co-workers’ talents into the spotlight, as well as the hopes of the Deaf community. In an interview with the BBC, Marlee Matlin said, "A lot of people will be thinking about deaf actors now, thinking of ideas, scripts and collaborations… It's amazing that finally our movement has been heard and we've broken through all the barriers. People are appreciating us and honoring us — it's wonderful."  She added: "It's been a long time coming. Thirty-five years I've been waiting to tell people that there are deaf actors out there eager to work."

One of the clear messages of the movie, CODA, is the importance of working through differences with love to bring people together. The actor, Emilia Jones, who plays the hearing daughter in a deaf family, said, "I had so much to learn for this movie. The film is about a culture and a family that’s rarely seen on screen.  And it’s giving people an insight into a culture. I knew nothing about Deaf culture before I went into this movie. But it’s also teaching people that no matter what language you speak, or where you’re from, love is love."

Talent, heart, and love cross all cultures.

Special Note: Co-Author Brenda Cartwright is a proud CODA.


  1. Aljazeera. (2022, March 28). Oscars 2022: ‘CODA’ Wins Prize for Best Picture.  https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/3/28/coda-wins-oscar-for-best-picture
  2. Apple. (2022, March 27). Apple’s “CODA” Wins Historic Oscar for Best Picture at the Academy Awards.  https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2022/03/apples-coda-wins-historic-oscar-for-best-picture-at-the-academy-awards/
  3. IMDb. (2021). Sound of Metal (2019) Awards. Retrieved April 6, 2022, from https://m.imdb.com/title/tt5363618/awards/?ref_=tt_awd
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  5. Jurgensen, J. (2022, March 27). Troy Kotsur of ‘Coda’ Wins Best Supporting Actor Oscar. The Wall Street Journal.  https://www.wsj.com/livecoverage/oscars-academy-awards-2022
  6. McIntosh, S. (2022, March 28). How the Feel-Good Film CODA Caused an Oscars Upset. BBC.  https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-60825096
  7. Now This News. (2022, March 28). CODA's Troy Kotsur Wins Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Co6Da7f9-nE
  8. Renata, C. [The Curvy Critic]. (2021, June 27). Nyle DeMarco and Matt Ogens Talk Deaf Football and Audible [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FKlU2LtxydA

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