Hannah Michelle Bussa
After rave reviews at Sundance in January, “CODA” released on Apple TV+ and in select theaters this weekend, starring Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur and Daniel Durant.
“CODA,” or Child of Deaf Adults, follows a family with a Deaf son, Deaf parents and a hearing daughter who sings.
I love seeing Deaf representation on screen, especially when it shows the layers to Deaf experiences. Deaf people and deaf experiences are not monolithic, so getting more varying representation on screen is important.
I’m going deaf. Right now, I typically use the label “hard of hearing,” but Deaf representation—accurate Deaf representation—is something that helps me grow into my deaf identity.
Marlee Matlin is one of the most famous Deaf people, being the only Deaf actor to win an Oscar (so far). Seeing that Matlin was in this film was important for me, as she is usually part of projects that are accurate depictions of deaf experiences.
According to an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Matlin is the reason the Deaf cast members in “CODA” are actually Deaf actors, saying: “To have a hearing actor put on a deaf character as if it was a costume—we’ve moved beyond that point now.”
That helped Daniel Durant (who you might recognize as Love Quinn’s ex-husband from Netflix’s “You” season two, or Matthew from Switched at Birth) secure his role as Leo, and Troy Kotsur secure his role as Frank.
Matlin was also part of the push for the promise of open captions in theaters (unlike the release of “A Quiet Place Part II”). Though Nebraska is not on the official list, Film Streams screenings in Dundee will be subtitled as well, according to a release from the Nebraska Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.
Was “CODA” the perfect film to represent the Deaf community? No. But no film following a singular family will. Like anyone else, deaf people have varied family experiences.
The film, after all, does center on a hearing person, the Child of Deaf Adults. In many ways, I still felt the film centered on hearing audiences, too. While this film showed the actors signing more consistently than most shows that use ASL, there were still scenes that cut away from the signing, still making deaf audiences rely on the captions.
A look at a CODA’s perspective was a different view into the Deaf community than shows typically take. For me, seeing a hearing person feel left out of conversations at the family dinner table was an interesting twist—as a deaf person in a hearing family, it is commonly the other way around.
Though the film is filled with memorable and touching scenes, my favorite is about an hour and twenty minutes in. Durant’s character gives a speech in that moment that resonated with me—overwhelmingly saying that Deaf people aren’t helpless (though they seem to be portrayed to be through much of the film.)
If you’ve never been introduced to the Deaf community, “CODA” is a must-see film. If you love seeing Deaf actors on your screen, “CODA” has an unusual three out of four main characters that are Deaf actors in Deaf roles.
While on-screen representation is growing for the Deaf community, I would love to see more intersectional representation in upcoming projects—maybe a Black Deaf family, or a queer Deaf friend group—something that includes the intersections of marginalized identities, not just projects that show only one marginalized community at a time.
Though it wasn’t the most groundbreaking film I’ve ever seen, I’m happy to see another step toward true representation on screen for my community in “CODA.”