Reel Corner - May 2022

CODA (CODA is defined as Child Of Deaf Adult)

May 2022 Issue
Reel Corner by Donne Paine

CODA is defined as Child Of Deaf Adult

Winner of the 2022 Academy Award Best Picture
Director: Sian Heder | Cast: Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur

The setting is the fishing village of Gloucester, Massachusetts. As a Child of Deaf Adults and the only hearing person in her family, high school senior Ruby Rossi always has a lot on her plate. Indeed, trying to juggle back-breaking work on her father’s fishing boat, schoolwork, social life and the family’s expectations can be too much for a teenager. But do her parents know Ruby loves to sing? When Ruby signs up for the school choir, singing becomes a passion, and suddenly, the talented young girl finds herself at a crossroads: Should she spread her wings and follow her dreams, or should she keep fighting everyday battles as a member of the proud Rossi family.

In the shadow of “The Slap” (Will Smith/Chris Rock), which has defined the Oscars this year, CODA, an independent film that was introduced at Sundance, and against all odds, came away with the big prize hasn’t gotten the attention The Reel Corner feels it deserves.

CODA, written and directed by Sian Heder, is an English-language remake of the French-language film La Famille Bélier, which was released in 2014 and successful at the French box office.

Being familiar with the city from visiting in the summer when growing up, Director Sian Heder chose to set CODA in Gloucester, it being the combination of picturesque and quintessentially New England but with a working-class grit to it. Heder learned American Sign Language (ASL) in the process of writing the script. 

To prepare for the film, Heder also observed a fish processing plant and consulted the local harbormaster about how authorities would raid a boat and the challenges of the average fishermen.

In casting, Heder first cast Marlee Matlin. During the development process, the film’s financiers resisted casting deaf actors for the remaining deaf characters. Matlin threatened to drop out unless deaf actors were cast, and the financiers ultimately relented. Matlin described her interest in getting CODA made, that audiences would really see deaf people in a film. She stated, people think that deaf people are monolithic in terms of how they approach life. And this film busts that myth. But, to do that, it had to be told as authentically as possible.

For the deaf actors, Heder hired a rotating group of ASL interpreters that facilitated communication with signing and speaking among the cast and crew. Heder really immersed herself into the deaf culture and made every attempt to learn and to work with the deaf actors; having two directors of sign language on the set, plus interpreters, plus the crew who learned sign language, everyone working together.

The director also auditioned hundreds of teenage girls before casting Emilia Jones as the hearing member of the deaf family. Jones took voice lessons and learned ASL for nine months before filming started.

The deaf community reviews were positive. After seeing so many stories where people with disabilities are depicted as helpless, forlorn souls needing to be rescued, it is refreshing to see a story with deaf characters who are small business owners and leaders in their fishing community, with depth and nuance that rival and even exceed that of their hearing counterparts in the story.

At the 94th Academy Awards, CODA won all three awards that it was nominated for: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Kotsur) and Best Adapted Screenplay. It is the first film produced and/or distributed by a streaming service to win this caliber of awards.

CODA is in theaters and can be streamed on Apple TV. It is a must see if you haven’t already done so.


ReelCorner 1219 Donne
Donne Paine, film enthusiast, once lived around the corner from the Orson Welles Theater in Cambridge Massachusetts, where her strong interest in films, especially independent ones, began. Supporter of the arts, especially films, she travels to local and national film festivals, including Sundance, Toronto and Tribeca. There is nothing like seeing a film on the big screen. She encourages film-goers to support Hilton Head local theaters; Coligny Theater, Park Plaza Theater and Northridge. To support her habit of frequent movie going, Donne is a travel medicine nurse consultant. See you at the movies!

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