CODA, Oscar hope, a lesson in inclusive cinema, on camera and behind the scenes


For the first time in history, a film with a mostly deaf cast is up for Best Picture at the Oscars.

CODA (Child Of Deaf Adults) follows teenage singer Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones), the only hearing person in a close-knit family of four, as she joins her school choir and sets her sights on a prestigious music school. Jones is joined by veteran actors Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur and Daniel Durant, playing his family members.

Matlin told The Associated Press that she thinks this will lead to more deaf actors in movies.

“A lot of people just don’t know. They don’t know that we can work as easily as anyone else,” she said through an interpreter.

“I know – I don’t hope – that CODA will change the landscape.”

Matlin, who plays Jackie, Ruby’s mother, was the first deaf actor to win an Oscar when she won Best Actress for Children of a lesser God in 1987. In the 35 years since that film, his co-star Kotsur (playing Ruby’s father, Frank) is only the second deaf actor to receive a nomination.

From left to right, Jones, Kotsur, Matlin and Durant in CODA. Matlin was the first deaf actor to win an Oscar when she won best actress in 1987. Her co-star Kotsur is up for best supporting actor, only the second time a deaf performer received a nomination. (AppleTV+)

Corn CODA isn’t the only film nominated for an Oscar this year featuring deaf people. Competing for Best Documentary Short, Netflix Film Audible tells the story of a star football player at a Maryland high school for deaf students.

The nominations are a rare but encouraging sign that the industry recognizes actors and stories from the deaf community. Canadians working in the film industry say there are various approaches to making productions inclusive for Deaf talent – ​​and that includes hiring Deaf collaborators behind the scenes in an extremely hearing industry.

A family story

A lot of CODAThe charm of lies in the comedic chemistry between its main quartet.

During a table scene at the start of dinner, Ruby’s mother berates her for listening to music while they sit down to eat. Why can’t she listen to music, Ruby asks, if her brother is allowed to scroll through a dating app in the middle of a meal? Because “Tinder is something you can do as a family,” replies his mother.

CODA celebrates the joys of being Deaf and showcases Deaf culture and humor,” said Joanne Weber, Canada Research Chair in Deaf Education at the University of Alberta and Artistic Director of the Deaf Crows Collective, an all-deaf theater group based in Regina.

“When we get together, that’s when we can poke fun or make jokes about this experience,” Weber said through an interpreter.

“So CODA brought that out, I thought… They showed that part of our natural speech when we’re with each other.

WATCH | The trailer for CODAtop of the list of the race for the best images:

In movies produced by hearing people, deaf people are portrayed as sad or oblivious, said Jennifer Roberts, a Montreal actress whose parents are deaf. While watching CODAshe said she enjoyed Kotsur’s comedic performance, calling him a master of American Sign Language (ASL).

“[CODA] highlighted the normalcy of everyday life, the love felt in families and how fast, funny and capable deaf people are,” Roberts wrote in an email to CBC News.

“Essentially, they’re normal. And if everyone knew ASL, they would understand that.”

In the film, as the sole performer for her family, Ruby feels the pressure to stay in their small town and help run their fishing business.

Roberts said his hometown had a large deaf community and his parents strongly believed that hearing people should learn to communicate with deaf people without interpreters.

“I was happy to support him, [I] I hope to see more stories like this, but [I] wasn’t looking to see my own experience perfectly represented in a movie,” Roberts wrote.

Create an inclusive and accessible film set

Audible, which airs on Netflix, follows Amaree McKenstry-Hall as he prepares for a high-stakes championship game. As he develops a crush on a girl at school and mourns the suicide of a friend, he prepares to navigate the hearing world.

The Netflix Audible film tells the story of Amaree McKenstry-Hall, a football star at a Maryland high school for deaf students. The film will compete for Best Documentary (Short) on Sunday evening. (Netflix)

While filming at Maryland High School for the Deaf, students from the school’s media program participated in a shadowing initiative, where they learned the ropes from various crew members, Geoff McLean said. , the film’s Toronto producer.

“They were sort of figuring out what they wanted to do in film and learned a lot just from following different departments or following [director] Mast [Ogens] or me,” McLean said.

WATCH | The trailer for Audiblein the running for the best documentary (short subject):

In a 2020 research report on the artistic practices of Deaf and disabled people in Canada, the Canada Council for the Arts has found that Deaf and/or disabled artists face major barriers in terms of accessibility, funding, communication and cultural representation. One of the recommendations was that the cost of hiring ASL interpreters should be funded separately instead of coming from creation funding.

In a statement to CBC News, the Canada Council for the Arts said that in 2021-22 it committed more than $4.6 million in funding to arts projects for the Deaf and people with disabilities in Canada. For perspective, the council allocates $58.1 million in funding annually to music and sound projects, and $54.5 million to theater, according to their website.

With Deaf Crows Collective, Weber and his collaborators made a short film, deaf fable, filmed last summer in Regina. While the crew was a mix of hearing and deaf, she and other producers made sure everyone on set used sign language at all times.

“Speaking in front of deaf people without signing, like, no, that’s rude…It’s a disrespectful power imbalance,” she said.

The Deaf arts community in Canada is trying to carve out a niche on the technical side of filmmaking, for people who want to become editors, filmmakers and designers, Weber said.

One of the reasons why CODA was so successful, according to Roberts, because its director Sian Heder worked with deaf collaborators and consultants. Heder said Variety Magazine this month that she reviewed her script line by line with two ASL experts. Its lead actors also improvised, contributing ideas during filming.

“ASL directors, ASL coaches, consultants, and crew members who are deaf will make all the difference in story accuracy and film quality,” Roberts wrote.

According to Roberts, the industry has an untapped pool of Deaf producers, directors and technicians. Bringing different perspectives into behind-the-scenes roles can lead to rich and rewarding creative results.

“Deaf people are naturally extremely visual and see the world through a different lens,” she said.

“I’ve seen some amazing artistic choices from deaf technicians that I think could greatly benefit the hearing industry.”