CODA Movie Review

 By: Benji Boyd, Freshman

Did anyone actually watch the Oscars? Or did we all just witness the oddest celebrity moment since Bernie wore those gloves and call it a night? Well, if you did stick around, you might recall that the winner of Best Picture was the movie CODA, the story of a hearing girl in an entirely deaf fishing family. 

  Unlike the rest of the nominees, CODA is a movie that I actually took the time to watch beforehand. Admittedly, I was only really drawn in by the fact that it was filmed in Gloucester, and I was hoping to catch a glimpse of something familiar on the silver screen. I mean, did anyone here in Marblehead watch Adam Sandler’s Hubie Halloween for the plot? It was exciting to see the Gloucester harbor and various locations around the Gloucester downtown area throughout the movie, but nowhere near as thrilling as watching characters wander around Marblehead cosplaying as Salem on steroids (assuming that I’m not crazy and this movie wasn’t just a Halloween candy-induced fever dream).

   But let’s talk about the big winner, CODA, which tells the story of Ruby, and her struggle being the only hearing member in her deaf family. Not only can Ruby hear, but she loves to sing. As a high schooler, she is conflicted between continuing to aid her family with their fishing business after graduation, acting as the sign language interpreter that they need, and going on to college to pursue her passion for music.   

  This movie follows the timeless trope of the torn protagonist, the family and mentor who can both only see one side, and the supportive love interest. The events of this movie were predictable and the plot could be copy and pasted into any eighties movie script without too much trouble. However, this story was saved by both the premise and the execution. While the struggle for every high school heroine is unique, the representation of deaf characters and actors was new and exciting. Unlike other pieces of mainstream media, all three deaf characters were played by deaf actors, which allowed the ASL (American Sign Language) dialogue to

feel natural and genuine to deaf viewers. While some have complained that lead actor, Emilia Jones, who plays Ruby, is not as natural with the signs as one would expect a CODA (child of deaf adults) to be, for the most part, CODA’s representation of ASL is much more accurate than that of other media employing hearing actors in deaf roles. 

   But what about the representation of deaf people as a whole? In an article I found on today.com, “Deaf Community Responds to ‘CODA’: What the Movie Gets Right and Misses,” I read about how many found a scene in which Ruby’s father (Troy Kotsur) is blasting rap music in his truck in order to feel the bass relatable and authentic. Kotsur ended up being the second deaf person to ever win an Academy Award for his role in CODA. Many enjoyed the small details that were able to be included in the movie due to the deaf actors adding their own personal experiences to their acting. 

   If you’re still not convinced why hiring deaf actors for deaf roles is so important, imagine if an actor who didn’t speak English was hired for a role as a person born and raised in America, and instructed in English in the months leading up to filming. Not only would their performance be unconvincing for us who were born and raised in America, but they would likely not be able to put much of their own knowledge and talent into their acting. The slang would be stilted, the mannerisms off, and the whole thing annoying. Sure, non-English speakers watching with subtitles would like it, but would we? The same principle applies. 

   Overall, CODA walked a well-worn moviemaking pathway with a fresh stride, and its victory in the Oscars put deaf narratives into the limelight. It was funny and enjoyable, and the cliches had just enough of a fresh twist to keep me entertained. Obviously, as a hearing person, I’m not an authority on matters of the deaf community, but the general consensus seems to be that any representation that helps deaf individuals see themselves on the big screen and educates others on deaf issues is a good addition to the Best Pictures.

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