CODA Brings ASL to Big Screen, Public’s Attention


The film tells the story of a mostly deaf family, focusing mainly on the sole hearing member of the family and her difficulties fitting into the hearing community—its title comes from the common acronym CODA, which stands for “child of deaf adults.” The film, which most recently won three Oscars, features a predominantly deaf cast and as such, American Sign Language (ASL) plays a large role throughout. About 40% of the script was written in ASL, making it one of the most celebrated films to highlight the language.

With a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the film has received strong critical acclaim, which is reflected in its strong performance at awards ceremonies in the last couple of months. The film has won 26 awards so far (with four nominations at the Satellite Awards on April 2), including the Academy Awards for best picture, best supporting actor, and best adapted screenplay.

Critics have hailed CODA’s strong performance as a historic win for deaf and hard-of-hearing representation in the entertainment industry. In an effort to make the Academy Awards more accessible to the deaf actors in the film and the broader deaf community, individual interpreters were assigned to each actor, as well as four additional interpreters to interpret to the in-person and television audiences.

Troy Kotsur, the actor who played the titular CODA’s father, received the award for best supporting actor at the Academy Awards. Kotsur is just the second deaf actor to win an Oscar—his co-star, Marlee Matlin, was the first, winning the award for best actress in 1987. Delivering his acceptance speech in ASL, Kotsur thanked the predominantly deaf theater companies he’d worked with throughout his career for giving him a space to hone his craft as an actor.

“I read one of Spielberg’s books lately and he said that the definition of the best director was a skilled communicator,” he said. “Sian Heder [CODA’s director], you are the best communicator, and the reason why is you brought the deaf world and the hearing world together—you are our bridge.” Andrew Warner



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