First published in the March 24 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.
There certainly is madness brewing late in March yet it has nothing to do with basketball.
The Academy Awards race for best picture seems to be more contentious than previously expected with “CODA,” a film starring La Cañada Flintridge resident Marlee Matlin, winning the Producers Guild of America award for best theatrical motion picture Saturday, making the Apple TV+ dramedy a serious contender to upset odds-on favorite “The Power of the Dog” Sunday.
The PGA award has been known to be a reliable indicator as to what academy voters are favoring with 11 of the last 14 winners going on to win the Oscar for best picture.
In “CODA,” an acronym that stands for children of deaf adults, Matlin stars as a deaf mother of a 17-year-old girl who is torn between helping her family and pursuing her musical aspirations. The heartwarming dramedy was a critical darling at the Sundance Film Festival in January and Apple purchased the worldwide rights to the film for a record $25 million.
Though the film — which reportedly had a $10 million budget — wasn’t a hit at the box office, garnering just over $1 million, it remained in the conversation in film circles and gained steam as awards season began.
“CODA,” written and directed by Sian Heder, went on to win the Screen Actors Guild award for outstanding performance by a cast in a motion picture, a victory that not only stunned film industry insiders but Matlin, as well.
“We deaf actors have come a long way,” Matlin said after receiving the award. “ … This validates the fact that we deaf actors can work just like anybody else. We look forward to more opportunities for more deaf actors, deaf culture.”
Matlin, 56, is no stranger to this kind of attention. She won the Oscar for best actress in 1987 for her performance in “Children of a Lesser God,” becoming the youngest actress to win in that category at 21 years old — a record that still stands — and has since worked in notable television series such as “The West Wing” and “Reasonable Doubts.”
Matlin is still the only deaf actor to win an Academy Award, but that could change this weekend with costar Troy Kotsur, who plays her husband in the film, favored to take home the statue for best supporting actor.
Kotsur said Matlin’s momentous Oscar win 35 years ago encouraged him to pursue his dream of acting.
“Ever since ‘Children of a Lesser God’ in the late ’80s, it inspired me with the authenticity and portrayal of deaf actors,” Kotsur said at the American Film Institute Awards, which honored “CODA” as one of its top 10 films of the year. “It wasn’t easy for me to find the right script, but with ‘CODA,’ it felt like it was a transformational experience where hearing people can finally enter our deaf culture and [see] we have our own language.”
Matlin and Kotsur feel that a coming-of-age, entertaining film such as “CODA” can bridge the gaps that have existed between the deaf community and those who can hear.
“We can be emotional together and we can really impact a wide audience,” Kotsur said. “So why ‘CODA’ is important is to recognize American Sign Language, increase awareness of children of deaf adults. And really, deaf people aren’t here to be sympathized or be victims. We’re hardworking people who are out there every day.”
Matlin hopes the film not only opens the doors for deaf actors but also encourages the industry to tell more stories from a community that has long been neglected.
“It’s a movie for everybody,” she said at the AFI Awards. “I think when they watch the film and they see deaf actors carrying a film that they’ll say, hey, it’s possible. You can make a movie with deaf actors. Simple as that.”
The 94th Academy Awards will broadcast on ABC Sunday beginning at 5 p.m.