As a company invested in working towards a more inclusive world, it was fantastic to see that the 94th Oscars had some great wins for diverse representation. CODA, a film about a Deaf family, won Best Picture. This will result in more mainstream awareness on deafness and Deaf culture. In addition, Ariana DeBose made history as the first openly queer woman of colour to win an Academy award. Greater onscreen diversity will give way to a more inclusive, understanding world for all.
1. Best Picture
2. Best Adapted Screenplay
3. Best Supporting Actor for Troy Kotsur
CODA stands for Child of Deaf Adults. In this film, Ruby (Emilia Jones) is the sole hearing member of her Deaf family. Ruby realises that she has a talent for singing. She feels torn between assisting her Deaf family with their fishing business and pursuing music school.
Troy Kotsur is the second deaf actor to win an academy award. The first was his co-star Marlee Matlin for her role in Children of a Lesser God (1986). 40% of the script is in American sign language.
Here is an extract Troy Kotsur’s speech, ‘I want to thank all the wonderful deaf theater stages where I was allowed and given the opportunity to develop my craft as an actor…I just wanted to say that this is dedicated to the deaf community, the CODA community, and the disabled community. This is our moment. To my mom, my dad, and my brother, Mark. They’re not here today but look at me now: I did it. I love you. Thank you.’ As he joined the stage, the audience gave him the Deaf clap, which is, waving your hands in the air.
Yet, the film has divided opinions within the Deaf community. Some feel that there is an over-emphasis on the family’s need for Ruby, as the only hearing member of the family, to communicate. Since the 1990 American with Disabilities Act, deaf people are entitled to a translator in official settings. Others felt that it was a misstep to focus so intensely on music. It has been criticised for being too soft and heart-warming – but then, the counterargument to that has been, why shouldn’t a story featuring deafness be that?
Deaf film-maker, Garrett Zuercher, writes, ‘As a Deaf person, I am exhausted at yet another mainstream story that pretends to be about my identity filtered through the eyes of the hearing other… I want to see the aspirations and passions and struggles of Deaf people themselves, not the hearing people struggling to support them, only to leave them behind….Unfortunately, the vast majority of Deaf stories focus on heterosexual cisgender white people. Perhaps this is because they are largely told by able-bodied filmmakers who seem to think that a character simply being Deaf is diverse enough.’
Moreover, people seem united in being glad that a film featuring Deaf characters is getting such recognition on the world-stage. It feels like a step in the right direction for representation.
Reviews of Coda:
Ariana DeBose won best actress in a supporting role for West Side Story. She made history as the first Afro Latina woman, and the first openly queer woman of colour, to receive an Academy award.
‘Lastly, imagine this little girl in the back seat of a white Ford Focus, look into her eyes: You see a queer, openly queer woman of color, an Afro Latina who found her strength in life through art. And that’s what I believe we’re here to celebrate. Yeah, so, to anybody who has ever questioned your identity ever, ever, ever, or you find yourself living in the gray spaces, I promise you this: There is indeed a place for us.’
This is such a memorable, uplifting speech. It has the power to inspire many. Ariana DeBose is a superb role model for generations to come.
The New Zealand-born Australia director, Jane Campion, became the third female filmmaker ever to win best director in the 94 years of the Oscars. She won for The Power of Dog.
Along with her brother Finneas O’Connel, Billie Eilish picked up best original song for No Time to Die.
For Cruella, Jenny Beavan picked up her third Oscar for costume design.
Let us hope that such a long lapse of time does not pass before another Deaf actor wins at the Oscars. Still, Troy Kotsur’s win is something that should be fully embraced. Moreover, it is fantastic to see an openly queer women of colour make history by winning an Academy award. Not only that, Ariana DeBose’s speech was inspiring and moving. She is a wonderful role model. Furthermore, it is great to see so many women breaking that glass ceiling. We look forward to an even more inclusive Oscars next year.