Deaf representation in films and series has grown so much throughout the years, and last year the well acclaimed film CODA managed to do an extraordinary job at it.
CODA (which stands for Child of Deaf Parents) is a coming-of-age story that focuses on Ruby Rossi and her family. Ruby, being the only hearing person in her deaf family manages to balance both her personal life that includes her passion for music and being a translator for her family’s fishing business.
Ruby Rossi is a talented high school student that wakes up every morning to help her parents and brother with their fishing business. Being in high school is an already stressful situation for many teenagers and having a family that does not fit the “normal” in society puts pressure on her. Having dealt with the responsibility of translating for her family since she was young, Ruby realizes that there is more to her life than helping them, which she acknowledges when she joins the choir group of her high school.
CODA is a comedy-drama film, written and directed by Sian Heder. The actors portraying the Rossi family are Emilia Jones, Academy Award winner Marlee Martin, Troy Kotsur and Daniel Durant. This film is a remake of the French film La Famille Bélier (2014), which had the French singer/actress Louane Emera as its protagonist. A huge difference between the films is that CODA had the protagonist’s family played by actual deaf actors, unlike La Famille Bélier, which failed to do so and was criticized when it cast actors that had to learn sign language for the film instead of casting someone from the deaf community.
CODA debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in the beginning of 2021, and it became so popular that Apple paid $25 million to own the distribution rights, which meant that the film would be able to reach more audiences thanks to Apple’s streaming service.
Since its release, CODA has managed to get 133 award nominations and 59 wins. The most recent wins being for Best Screenplay and Best Supporting actor (Troy Kotsur) at the BAFTA Awards (2022). And most importantly, at this year’s Academy Awards, CODA won 3 Oscars, including Best Motion Picture of the Year.
CODA was filmed entirely in Massachusetts, USA. Many scenes of the movie took place in and around the city of Gloucester, which has the oldest fishing port in America. Ruby’s father and brother work as fishermen, so this location ended up being the perfect backdrop for many scenes in the movie.
The movie was able to portray how deaf people are able to live normal lives. Having said that, Ruby Rossi is aware of the fact that even though her family is able to have normal jobs, her help is needed most of the times, especially when society is not as patient or understanding as she is towards her family, which ultimately limits her into having a regular teenage life.
CODA also has the participation of Eugenio Derbez, who plays Ruby’s choir teacher and who helps her realize that she has a talent for singing and ultimately encourages her to pursue music education outside her hometown.
Throughout the film we can see how strong and responsible Ruby is considering her age, up to a breaking point in which she no longer can juggle work, her family and her choir lessons.
This performance of Emilia Jones is considered a breakout role for her; however, she is no stranger to success having been part of the main cast of the hit Netflix show Locke & Key since 2020. Emilia not only had to take singing lessons and learn ASL, but she also had to change her British accent into an American one, which makes her overall performance a very impressive one.
In the past, deaf characters were selected for minor roles, but thanks to Todd Haynes’ Wonderstruck (2017), John Krasinski’s A Quiet Place (2018) and its sequel, and Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal (2019), they have become important characters or even protagonists.
Just like those movies, CODA was able to prove to audiences that subtitled films are just as entertaining as any other. This film not only includes a great storyline, amazing performances, humor that is shown most of the times through sign language, but also manages to talk about serious subjects without being a full-on dramatic movie. CODA is streaming exclusively on Apple TV+.