The predominantly deaf cast of Apple TV+’s CODA made history on Sunday as it became the first to win one of SAG’s coveted ensemble prizes.
The ensemble comprised of Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur, Daniel Durant, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Eugenio Derbez won out in the category of Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture, besting those of Belfast (Focus Features), Don’t Look Up (Netflix), House of Gucci (MGM/United Artists Releasing) and King Richard (Warner Bros.).
Among those speaking to the watershed moment backstage was Matlin, who said that tonight was a night she’d been waiting for for decades—specifically, since she became the first deaf actor to win an Oscar, with Children of a Lesser God. “It’s a night that I’ve been waiting for for 35 years,” she said. “It has been time and this just validates, among those people who voted for us at SAG-AFTRA, they knew we are their peers, their equals. We are all actors and this [recognition] had to really give more opportunities for other actors out there, who or whatever they may be.”
“It’s been a long way to get here and to make this all happen, and I have to thank Marlee and [writer-director] Sian [Heder] for fighting for getting authentic deaf actors to play real deaf characters and give them our real experiences,” added Durant, who like Matlin, is deaf. “I hope this changes opportunities for deaf people so they have more opportunity and things are better.”
While Derbez is not one of CODA‘s deaf cast members, he spoke backstage to the ways in which he’s seen the film resonate with other kinds of underrepresented communities. “Now that we’re talking about inclusion and diversity, I think this is the perfect movie for that. I’m always [saying] that this is also a love song for immigrants, because all immigrants all around the world, but especially in this country, when they come here and they have kids, the second generation are CODAs and dedicate their lives [to] translating for their parents,” he remarked. “Even if they’re not deaf, they have to translate for their parents, so this is a movie that connects with all the immigrants all around the world.”
CODA‘s Kotsur also made history tonight on the film side, as he claimed the statuette for Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role, becoming the first deaf actor to win an individual prize, after becoming the first to score a solo nomination.
CODA is a comedic drama based on the French film La Famille Bélier, which tells the story of Ruby (Jones), a CODA (or “child of deaf adult”) who serves as an interpreter for the members of her Boston family, including her mother Jackie (Matlin), her father Frank (Kotsur) and her brother Leo (Durant). At a pivotal moment in her life, the character finds herself torn between the role she plays, in connecting her loved ones to the outside world—above all, with regard to their fishing business—and her pursuit of an education in music.
Heder’s film garnered critical acclaim upon its premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, winning its Grand Jury Prize, as well as its Audience Award, Directing Award and U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Best Ensemble. Apple acquired it out of the festival for a record-setting $25 million, releasing it in theaters and on Apple TV+ on August 13. Over the course of the 2021-2022 awards season, the film has also been recognized with noms at the BAFTA Awards, the Critics Choice Awards, the Artios Awards, the Independent Spirit Awards, the PGA Awards and the WGA Awards.
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