CODA capped off the wild final hour of Sunday’s 94th Oscars with a history-making win for Best Picture, making Apple the first streaming winner in the marquee category.
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In another milestone, CODA was also the first film with a predominantly deaf cast to win the ultimate prize. The crowd at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre expressed its affection with an ovation both with applause and sign-language. The film’s climactic win capped off weeks of momentum as it climbed to the position of front-runner for the top honor on the strength of multiple guild wins.
“Thank you to the Academy for letting our CODA make history tonight,” producer Philippe Rousselet said in accepting the award.
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He also gave a shout-out to writer-director Siân Heder for “keeping our boat afloat,” noting that “it hasn’t been an easy ride. … You’ve been the best captain a producer can ever dream of. To our incredible cast, you guys have made such a wonderful and loving family onscreen, but also offscreen, and everybody wanted to be a part of it.”
As the recipients spoke, one sign language interpreter took a prominent spot on the stage for TV cameras and another interpreted the speeches into sign language for the benefit of cast members. At one point, Rousselet also paused to sign a message to cast members arrayed around him. Unlike many Best Picture speeches, Rousselet delivered his largely facing his collaborators, with his side profile captured by ABC’s cameras.
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Producer Patrick Wachsberger thanked the Academy for “recognizing a film about love and family at this difficult time.” He also saluted executives at Apple, who were “able to physically put the film everywhere in the world.” Apple TV+, which launched in November 2019, is available in more than 100 countries, though Apple has not disclosed any subscriber or viewership numbers.
In a statement, Zack Van Amburg, Apple’s head of worldwide video, hailed the film’s “powerful representation of the deaf community to audiences, and breaking so many barriers.” Working on CODA, he added, “reminds us of the power of film to bring the world together.” Added Jamie Erlicht, Apple’s head of worldwide video, “It has been a true joy to witness the positive impact on humanity that this story and its performances have had worldwide.”
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The heartfelt sentiments in the ceremony’s closing minutes managed to not be completely enveloped by the fog of awkwardness and confusion created by Will Smith. After slapping presenter Chris Rock onstage and cursing at him, Smith then returned to accept a Best Actor trophy for his performance in King Richard. While that sequence created a massive disruption, the Best Picture announcement drew genuine gasps and cheers and provided the three-and-a-half-hour show with a somewhat more conventional punctuation mark.
Despite CODA‘s triumph, streaming services overall had a surprisingly subdued night, collecting less than half of last year’s record-setting tally of nine Oscar wins, the victories all came in major categories. In addition to Picture, CODA won for Heder’s Best Adapted Screenplay and for Best Supporting Actor, Troy Kotsur. Jane Campion won for Best Director for Netflix’s The Power of the Dog.
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CODA is an English-language remake of Éric Lartigau’s 2014 French-language film, La Famille Bélier, though there are several significant differences between them including CODA’s casting of deaf actors in lead roles. Star Marlee Matlin, who was the lone deaf Oscar winner prior to Kotsur’s victory, described being prepared to exit the project when it appeared at one point hearing actors were being considered for the part played by Kotsur, who played Matlin’s husband in the film.
Apple acquired CODA for a record $25 million at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2020, releasing it last summer in theaters on the same day it began streaming on Apple TV+. Its global box office has reached just $1.2 million, giving it another historic distinction as the lowest-grossing Best Picture winner in history.
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